You said the union forever

DMZ · May 4, 2006 at 6:16 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

The MLBPA should have used their power to help support and thus end the minor league umpire strike. I know it’s close to being settled now, but the state of umpiring in the minors is bad enough without scab umpires taking twenty minutes to make horrible calls.

The MLB Players Association gets attacked all the time for being a bunch of horrible spoiled millionaires, and I’ve defended them again and again over their right to bargain on issues like drug testing, or salary caps, or whatever. It’s their livelihood and I respect their right to act in whatever way they think best benefits their own interests. I’ve differed with them on a lot of issues — their lack of attention to the situation of minor leaguers is pretty horrible, for one thing — and this is another one.

A lot of the resentment of the MLBPA comes from something most people don’t really think about though: they don’t act like a union. They never respect strikes by other unions and seem, at best, to give only glancing attention to those issues. They act more like a guild of the rich. This isn’t unique to the MLBPA. Like other unions, pro athlete or not, too many are led by the veterans and all too willing to sell out the newest members on the chain (there’s an exemption for signing players with more than 5 years of experience — take it out of the draft pick structure).

I’m not arguing that the MLBPA should honor every strike — but it should at least take them seriously. If there was a serious threat the players wouldn’t take the field over an issue like that, that’s an enormous pressure to settle things amicably and fast. And if it means that blue-collar janitors have the team’s star player looking out for them in some small sense, that’s worth a lot.

In cases like this, though, where it’s a union the players aren’t exactly allied with but who have a great affect on their working environment, they’re obligated to act. Every person on the 40-man roster is a member of the players’ union, even if they’re in the minor leagues. They’re also disproportionately the cream of the system. For example, guys in the Mariners’ minor league system as I write this who are not on the 25-man:

Yorman Bazardo, Travis Blackley, Renee Cortez, Jesse Foppert, Emiliano Fruto, Jeff Harris, Cesar Jimenez, Clint Nageotte

And then the hitters:
Wladimir Balentien, TJ Bohn, Shin-Soo Choo, Mike Morse, DOYLE(!!!)

That’s the high-level talent in the system. The Rainiers would barely field a team without those guys. Supporting the minor-league umpires’ strike would force a quick resolution to the negotiations because teams would be a team short until they settled.

Now, there are obvious sacrifices to be made. Unless the MLBPA puts on its own camp to let these guys all play (and hey, staff it with the striking umps), they’re losing development time, and I’m against that (plus, it might violate the terms of their contracts).

It means teams would have a lot harder time working out rehab schedules for players coming off the DL.

It inflicts a lot of pain on the minor league teams: instead of having horrible umpiring, they’d have much worse teams. It could be a big blow to their pockets, and minor league teams as a whole are running pretty close to the red anyway. However, they’re employing scab umpires, so I’m not sympathetic.

But for the pain, there’s a greater long-term win here. The MLBPA has been losing the public relations fight with the owners for years, as the owners have successfully painted the players are spoiled brats who are against drug testing, lower ticket prices, and cute puppies.

In sticking up for minor league umpires, they had an opportunity to stick up for a fellow union that’s directly connected to their ability to do their job, honor the sacrifices of those who fought for the collective bargaining rights they enjoy, and also to shed their image as a self-interested boy’s club where they light their cigars with hundred-dollar bills and chuckle at news of the poor and downtrodden.

Maybe next time.


31 Responses to “You said the union forever”

  1. ivan on May 4th, 2006 6:33 pm

    Good post, Derek. I am with you 100 percent on this one. Thanks.

  2. msb on May 4th, 2006 7:21 pm

    they have shown solidarity in their refusal to allow any concessions for the replacement players….

  3. teacherrefpoet on May 4th, 2006 7:43 pm

    I thought of this as I watched Inland Empire play Lancaster last month. Lancaster’s manager is Brett Butler. This is a guy who once (in September ’95) organized his entire team to ostracize a former replacement player, Mike Busch, who had been called up to the Dodgers. Literally nobody would speak to him or allow him a seat on the bench for several days, until the fans started booing Butler every time he came to the plate and cheering every time Busch came to the plate. As of now, I haven’t seen Butler among the few managers who have broken the MiLB-imposed gag order to complain about the non-union umps. If he’s really pro-union, that’s the least he should be doing.

    My conclusion: megabucks players are only pro-union when they feel it affects their pocketbooks directly.

  4. BelaXadux on May 4th, 2006 8:10 pm

    I’ve always thought of the MLBPA as a guild; that’s exactly what it is: keep wages up, competition down, and snoopers out. I have no respect for them as a ‘union’ whatsoever. I say that as a fan, but as a union member myself for years, and a political organizer before that, I say it twice over at double the decibels.

    The MLBPA’s long, long time neglect of minor leage baseball players is not only nothing new, it isn’t even something by design, it’s an historical structure of four generations duration: the minor league guys are competition who could take big league jobs, and are therefore talked of as incapable, and beneath notice. There’s also the pension issue, where minor league guys would get covered, and as members would get to vote their payouts up at the expense of major leagues who are the ones actually paying most of the money in. If we had a real _union_ situation, there would have been a deal long ago to cap maximum salaries in return for which the minimum salaries, and the money for minor league guys would have been bumped up.

  5. plivengood on May 4th, 2006 9:56 pm


    Well said. I haven’t gone to a minor league game yet, mostly because they’re employing scab umpires (that’s not the only reason — I’ve been pretty busy, too, and recent weather has certainly tempted me). You’ve nailed why most people whose sympathies run more to labor than to management have the attitude you describe about the MLBPA. Until they do as you suggest (at least CONSIDER the fact that there is an related union striking, and whether/how they might show support), they will never get the support of working people, nor should they.

  6. LB on May 4th, 2006 10:03 pm

    I read The End of Baseball As We Knew It a couple of years ago, and the book made it pretty clear that the MLBPA has never been a “union.” It also made it clear why the MLBPA has never given a damn about any PR hits it might take from the press or the public, because there’s nothing the press or the public can do to advance the players’ interests. Those battles get fought at the bargaining table with ownership, where wins actually mean something.

    It’s a book well worth reading.

  7. LB on May 4th, 2006 10:12 pm

    BTW, the MLBPA link is busted.


  8. DMZ on May 4th, 2006 10:14 pm

    Okay, but that’s just not true: the MLBPA represents the interests of its players. The players have strictly monetary concerns, but they also have personal concerns, which is why they were willing to give a ton of ground on drug testing concessions in the last CBA: there were a large contingent of players who wanted to see testing implemented, and as a result the union’s position changed.

    Now, you can argue that that was a selfish move (continued no testing would have led to fan dissent, lower revenues, etc) which contradicts what many player reps said before and during the CBA negotiations.

  9. LB on May 4th, 2006 10:51 pm

    #8: Okay, but that’s just not true

    The book was written before the public steroid scandal. And if you want to be cynical (who, me?), there was a very good chance that Congress would have jumped in and mandated a stricter PED policy than the MLBPA agreed to with the owners.

    The book also makes the case that (at least during the Marvin Miller era), it was always the players themselves who were driving the confrontations with MLB, that they were not simpleminded jocks being led by professional trade-unionists in the MLBPA. If the players were the force behind increased PED testing, then it sounds as if that is still true.

  10. jloris on May 5th, 2006 8:49 am

    *sigh* Always sad to come to your favorite site for baseball analysis and get some good-old-fashioned nasty name-calling.

    I’m having a hard time coming up with the same set of expected behaviors from a group of around, what, 1200 members who have a minimum wage an order of magnitude higher than the highest typical union member. Add on to this that it’s a union for a monopolistic/monopsonistic employer, and I honestly don’t know what to make of it. It seems like it would be a good PR move, but how would it affect the current status of MLBPA/MLB relations?

  11. DMZ on May 5th, 2006 8:55 am

    Nasty name-calling? Are you offended that I refer to the scab umpires as scab umpires?

  12. Evan on May 5th, 2006 9:24 am

    That’s what replacement workers are. Scabs.

    I happen to be a big fan of scabs, but I’d like their employers to have some standards of competence.

    What I don’t understand is why union members are generally expected to respect the picket lines of other unions. If I’m in a union, I haven’t agreed to anything except to respect the decisions of my union’s members. Other unions hold no sway over me.

  13. eponymous coward on May 5th, 2006 10:11 am

    There are some other things the MLBPA could do like fund a strike fund for the minor league umpires that would show solidarity…but yeah, the MLBPA is a guild, not a union.

    Which doesn’t surprise me, really; I recall a article where it was pointed out the baseball clubhouses were usually solidly Republican (and Randy Winn was quoted in the article as an exception). I would assume this would mean they won’t have warm fuzzies for the sort of “worker solidarity” stuff Democratic-leaning unions generally promote.

  14. dw on May 5th, 2006 10:18 am

    What I don’t understand is why union members are generally expected to respect the picket lines of other unions.

    Solidarity. You respect another union’s picket, and they’ll respect yours. The worker’s struggle and all that.

    The MLBPA is different from other unions, though, because of the sheer amount of money involved and the relatively small size of the union rank-and-file. The UAW has an interest in self-preservation of jobs, but it’s even more important for the MLBPA. If a Teamsters truck driver gets laid off from his $40/hour union job, he can find work at a non-union shop for $20-30/hour. When an MLBPA player’s contract runs out, they go from a $400,000 a year minimum salary to… driving a truck for $20-30/hour. Baseball skills just aren’t transferrable the way other unionized skills are.

  15. Brian Rust on May 5th, 2006 10:19 am

    Evan, at one time organized labor was “the labor movement.” Workers had the idea that they were all in it together. Remember “Workers of the world unite?” Armed with that solidarity and firmly occupying the moral high ground, the labor movement secured a significant share of the industrial revolution pie that created in the U.S.A. the world’s greatest-ever middle class.

    When economic stagnation of the late 60s, 70s and early 80s undercut their solidarity and the “Reagan revolution” shifted the public perception of the moral high ground from “common good” to “individual rights,” attitudes like yours (“other unions hold no sway over me”) overtook the labor movement. Now unions are nothing but another group of special interests. Given the choice, say, between a government subsidy for its particular industry and an increase in the minimum wage, a modern union will choose the subsidy every time, and contribute generously to the re-election of its proponents.

    Indifference to scabs and picket lines is simply a reflection of the self-interested American society we live in today.

  16. Grizz on May 5th, 2006 11:04 am

    While it took years to play out, the real turning point that changed the labor movement from a social movement to an economic movement was the Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1947, which, among other things, severely limited the use of secondary strikes and boycotts.

  17. msb on May 5th, 2006 11:35 am

    Just thought of something else the players Association has on its record. Steve Howe.

  18. davepaisley on May 5th, 2006 1:51 pm

    What is this, communist night at USSM?

  19. Evan on May 5th, 2006 2:06 pm

    15 – And I’m not even an American…

    …though I am part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

  20. Brian Rust on May 5th, 2006 2:18 pm

    See, Dave, there’s the shame of it. Although you’ve not provided context for discernment either of criticism or sarcasm, your remark perpetuates the current paradigm of political rhetoric that considers justice for working people a “communist” construct.

  21. DMZ on May 5th, 2006 2:21 pm

    Oh god noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

  22. msb on May 5th, 2006 2:44 pm
  23. jloris on May 5th, 2006 2:45 pm

    Offended, DMZ? No. Let down, disgusted, disappointed — those are more appropriate words. When I see “scab”, it’s just another sad reminder that I’m living in a country that buys tripe like “they hate us for our freedom”. What offends me is when thugs either a.) Don’t know they’re thugs, or b.) Try to disguise their thuggery with, “It’s for the children/people/workers/freedom/earth/everything — you’re against children/people/workers/freedom/earth/everything if you don’t agree with us!”.

    If I had my own blog, I’d just say, “You’re wrong, folks. The means *are* the end.” But that would just be smug.

    I should know better. It’s really my fault for selecting that link. I couldn’t help it — I dug the White Stripes reference!

  24. DMZ on May 5th, 2006 2:52 pm

    I honestly have no idea what you mean by any of that.

  25. Brian Rust on May 5th, 2006 2:55 pm

    Sorry, Derek. It just so happened that I was re-reading “The Grapes of Wrath” last month at exactly the moment the immigration issue grabbed the national attention. The whole “us versus them” theme REALLY jumped out at me. It was eerie.

  26. Evan on May 5th, 2006 3:33 pm

    23 – That’s only because you’ve inferred meaning beyond the label of “scab”. It’s simply a name – names are value-neutral.

    More on Inference

  27. Brian Rust on May 5th, 2006 3:57 pm

    If you call someone a despicable person that’s hardly value-neutral.

  28. BelaXadux on May 5th, 2006 7:59 pm

    Equating any form or worker organization or solidarity with communism is standard variety red-baiting where it isn’t simple ignorance.

    Communism is, in essence, worker ownership of the state in a context of class struggle against entrenched capital and property ownership monopolization. No significant faction has advocated for this at any time in American history, in significant part because land ownership has been sufficiently diversified that a reactionary lane-monopolizing minority never developed here.

    Socialism is worker ownership of, if not capital, than primary labor employers in a context of class struggle against capital owners. Some have advocated this in American history, but capital owners have a great deal of advantages, and more to the point most workers would (secretly, really) prefer to be capital owners if only they could get rich enough, so support for this has a fairly low ceiling on it. Democratic socialism advocates a worker influenced state managing state influenced capital utilization. That became the real goal of labor organization in the US, and while never fully implemented, because the worker influenced state was transitory if it ever existed, it remains the goal of nearly all organized labor here at this time.

    Anarcho-syndicalism argures for collective labor enterprises in a context of communal struggle against entrenched power, whether political, economic, or military power. This flavor actually has the best resonance with American political economy, but for various reasons its growth was initially abortive. Actually, the initial organization of the MLBPA is quite a good example of anarcho-syndicalism. That organization was a collective resistance against the power of ownership backed up by the power of the state which tacitly upheld the ‘reserve clause.’ The result was a syndicate controling prevailing labor conditions, but one in which individual players were free to contract for the best terms they could secure. . . . Which also shows the weakness of anarcho-syndicalism in that it its collective structures tend to be under-developed, and anyway shades quickly over to right wing entrenched entitlement guild-ism.

    I’m sure no one wanted to know that, but.

  29. davepaisley on May 6th, 2006 2:07 pm

    Way to get down with your bad blue-collar self…

    I prefer Larry the Cable Guy’s spin on it to be honest. And it has the added bonus of being a few shades more intelligible.

  30. BelaXadux on May 6th, 2006 7:18 pm

    Figured it was over your head, but.

  31. davepaisley on May 6th, 2006 7:29 pm

    My answer was code for “yes”, in response to:

    “I’m sure no one wanted to know that, but.”

    as in, “but… as I’m from the communist, self-absorbed, verbal diarrhea capital of Washington, I’m going to tell you anyway.”

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