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Union expert: Current MLB talks set the tone for new CBA in 2021

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

player holding baseballs

Major League Baseball players and club owners are beginning negotiations this month for what many think will be yet another abbreviated season in 2021. The long and contentious negotiation period is setting the stage for December 2021, when MLB’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire.

James B. Dworkin, a professor in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, is an expert on professional sports unions and collective bargaining, and an arbitrator in a variety of labor-management disputes. He is author of the book “Owners Versus Players: Baseball and Collective Bargaining.”

“Many people think that we will have one more season of labor peace prior to the negotiations after the 2021 season,” Dworkin says. “Nothing could be much further from the truth. COVID 19 is far from over, so the two sides will once again need to meet to hammer out the details.”

According to Dworkin, these discussions include the start of spring training, how long will it last, safety protocols, roster sizes, taxi squad sizes, salary, baseball rules like designated hitter in both leagues, seven-inning doubleheaders, how to operate in extra-inning games, and whether or not fans will be allowed to attend games.

The next round of negotiations will begin after December 1, 2021, and will cover the entire scope of the expired CBA. Dworkin says the key issues in this second round of bargaining will likely be the players’ share of revenues, service time manipulation, the competitive balance tax, and perhaps even a force majeure clause.

“What’s going on now is like the first round of a two-round heavyweight fight,” Dworkin says. “It’s better if they come to a bilateral agreement now because both sides can say that they agreed. Neither side wants to seem weak. They want to seem strong going into the next negotiation.”