The Evolution of A Game: Michael Weiner, Part I

Every now and then here at SNY.tv, I am able to get down from my soapbox and put on my journalist hat. The other day MLBPA Executive Director, Michael Weiner was so kind as to give myself and IIATMS about an hour of his time to sit down and chat about as the title would indicate, the evolution of the game during his tenure at the Players' Association with of course, a couple of Yankees questions peppered in there. This is part one of that interview: If you ask him whether he ever dreamed of working in sports let alone as the head of the most powerful players' union in all of professional sports, Michael Weiner would tell you that all he wanted to do coming out of Harvard Law was work in Labor Law for a union not necessarily in sports. However, as fate would have it the New Jersey-native and life-long Yankee fan found his way to the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1988 where he has obviously remained for the better part of 25 years.

Coincidentally, Weiner's tenure with the union has also spanned one of the most trans-formative and at times tumultuous eras for the game of baseball.  25 years ago if you were to tell anyone worth their salt in terms of knowledge of labor relations in sports that in 2013 baseball, with their Supreme Court-granted anti-trust exemption would have the most stable, peaceful, and amicable collective bargaining relationship in all of sports, they would call you crazy. However, that is exactly what has happened, the other three major professional sports leagues have endured protracted lockouts over the last 2/3 years and baseball on the other hand agreed to a new CBA even before the previous had expired.

When asked to explain the seemingly dramatic change in terms of the labor relations dynamics among the players and the owners, Weiner had this to offer:

"I think, it is because there is now a mutual respect that each side has for the other that didn't exist back then. From my perspective, as someone who has worked for the union since 1988, the union has always had respect for the owners bargaining strength and convictions but I'm not sure everyone on the management side felt the same way. However, after the 1994 negotiation, the people in management that were slow to the table realized that: 1) there was a union we have to deal with and 2) slowly but surely there's a union that might actually have some good ideas about the game. But I think its largely because of the history and mutual respect that we are now seemingly in a better place then we were 20 years ago."

This shift in dynamics when it comes to the relationship between the players and the owners has been due in large part to the increased participation of players in the collective bargaining process. In fact, according to the Players Association website the last round of negotiations were the most comprehensive in terms of player involvement in the history of collective bargaining in baseball. Encouraging player involvement in the collective bargaining process is something that Weiner has strived for and has taken great pride in seeing come to fruition over his time at the union.

"Players have always taken an active role in collective bargaining, it's just the way that this union has been run going back to Marvin Miller. What we did in the last round, which was the work of a lot of people here, was to really make sure that the players were engaged. In fact as early as 2009 we started to talk to player about what their priorities were in terms of what they wanted to see in the basic agreement in advance of negotiations that were slated to start in Spring Training 2011. Over the course of these two years we received phenomenal player input and by 2011 we had about 238 different players attend bargaining sessions and many of these 238 are discrete players who attended multiple sessions. Examples I've used in the past are players like David Robertson or Curtis Granderson or Josh Thole or Chris Capuano who came to dozens of sessions but only count as one. I think it's just a continuation of what this union has always been about  but we on the staff level gave it an increased emphasis to make sure we had a broad group of players and the players responded very, very well."

Another element that has made the level of labor peace in baseball is the disparity in terms of economics in different markets, as we have seen by virtue of its economic model, baseball has bred two classes of ownership: "the haves" and "have-not's." The level of revenue sharing among the member clubs is not nearly what it is in the NFL and yet there was way more push-back from the NFL owners who make over 100 some-odd million dollars annually just from their TV deal. When asked to explain why the baseball owners seem relatively content and complacent despite the inherent disparities in market, revenue, and payroll, Weiner posited:

"I don't know why NFL owners like Jerry Richardson and Jerry Jones, and you could substitute basketball and hockey owners into that sentence, took such an aggressive position. But they all did take a similarly aggressive stance in their negotiations even though their economics ranged from very profitable leagues to arguably not profitable leagues. I can't speak for them but I can tell you here (in baseball) the 2011 round of bargaining started with statements from management representatives that they weren't looking for a cap or for players to make less money. They did have some things they were looking to accomplish but they weren't looking for give-backs, which is very different from the other sports. I would attribute that to the history of solidarity that baseball players have shown, they proved in the 1990 lock-out, the 94-95 strike, and even in the 1981 strike that they have solidarity and are prepared to fight if that's what's called for. We, (the union) have always held that we are not looking for a fight and I think we have proved that to the owners and to the world that if we can make a deal, we will make a deal. We will indeed fight if we have to but we will make a deal when a fair one is available."

 

*Stay tuned for part two where we touch upon everybody's favorite subject, PED's and drug testing.