MLBPA rep Ian Happ spoke on MLB’s inaction before the CBA expired

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The players haven’t said much with regards to specifics about the collective bargaining sessions with Major League Baseball, but we got a little bit of insight on the pre-lockout process from Cubs’ union representative, Ian Happ. The Chicago outfielder explained to 670 The Score how negotiations went in Dallas in the final days before the lockout began, and it all serves as further evidence that MLB had no intention of actually attempting to work things out before the previous CBA expired.

“The difficult part about being in the negotiating room is that people take things off the table,” Happ said. “There’s just no negotiation there. Now, there’s core principles and core foundations for work stoppage issues on both sides. But if every issue is a work stoppage issue, then you can’t negotiate. That’s not how it works.”

Happ is likely referring to the same thing that the New York Times recently reported on, which is that MLB flat-out refused to show off an entire proposal to the union on the morning of December 1, unless the PA “drop a number of key demands.” That was MLB saying, basically, that “sure, we’ll continue to work on this and talk to you, but only if you immediately drop things we don’t want to bargain on, and no, you can’t even see what it is you’re agreeing to look at until you’ve already agreed to it.” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred claims that was an economic proposal: the players feel differently. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told the Times that, “From the outset, it seems as if the league has been more interested in the appearance of bargaining than bargaining itself,” and given that their focus seemed to be on not even beginning negotiations for real until they could impose a lockout, hoping to use that to pressure the players into taking a lesser deal, well, it’s hard to disagree with Clark’s assertion.

Happ continued with a line of reasoning that’s heartening to see the union utilizing:

“One of the most disappointing parts is that the owners didn’t make one economic proposal the entire time we were there,” Happ added. “We made an economic proposal that looped into (one) that was a broader package and putting all these things together on one piece of paper. It looped in a lot of economics, with the draft and expanded playoffs and all those things you’ve heard about. We didn’t get anything back. We didn’t get anything that said, ‘OK, here’s our proposal in the same realm, here’s how we get to a conclusion and move forward.’ Without having that, anyone who has been through a negotiation, whether it’s a car or a house or anything, you don’t just keep giving numbers and have the other person say no. You don’t just keep moving off your position. That’s a horrible way to negotiate.”

Sure, it would be pretty funny if MLB’s plan here was just to pull a Jack Donaghy and allow the PA to negotiate against themselves without ever even speaking a word during a collective bargaining session, but that’s a funny bit from a television show, not the reality of how these things work if the other side actually knows what they’re doing. MLB needs to be engaged in order for this process to move along, in order to find solutions that narrow the gaps between the two sides, but that was pretty clearly not their intent when it came to economic issues, in Dallas or in the months leading up to those final pre-deadline sessions.

I’ve said it before and will surely say it again, but the things the Players Association are asking for are not radical. They resemble or straight-up are the realistic things I’ve been saying and writing for years now that the PA needs to get out of MLB in order to change the way the game’s economics so blatantly favor one side over the other. None of their demands for a shorter path to arbitration, or an earlier free agency time, or a higher league-minimum salary, and so on, should be considered pipe dreams or reaching for what cannot be reached. I know when I’m writing something that should be but is unlikely to ever be, you know? I try to be pretty open about how realistic I believe something to be in terms of a vision of the future or its potential as an achievable ask, and the things the PA are proposing certainly are grounded in a potential reality that’s not all that hard to grasp. MLB has to stop plugging their ears and actually listen to what’s on offer for that to happen, though.

It seems pretty clear that the union isn’t interested in just negotiating for the sake of labor peace anymore, maybe not since it became clear that a focus like that brought them the 2016 CBA, and if not that soon, then certainly when players got a real sense of how exploitative the owners were with the negotiations for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. If they were focused on that, I don’t think we’d have a lockout right now, because the union membership would have been more agreeable to MLB’s ridiculous demands just to keep things moving along. From what Clark has been saying, the lockout is only going to further entrench the players in their position, which is the opposite of what MLB intended, and certainly isn’t going to bring about a resolution faster than actually negotiating in good faith might have.

The lockout might inevitably work against the owners, who could find that it is not the players who are starting to get worried about all of these delays causing them to lose out on 2022 dollars. If that time comes, maybe negotiations will finally look like they’re supposed to, like the ones Happ describes as being productive. Like the ones that just haven’t happened between the two sides since economics were brought to the table, because MLB doesn’t want them to work that way.

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