Spring training threatened, MLB owners ask for federal mediator

Will a federal mediator be able to advance negotiations between the players’ association and owners? (LM Otero/AP)

Major League Baseball asked a federal mediator to intervene in stalled labor negotiations that likely will put off the start of spring training.

On the 64th day of a lockout, MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem asked Thursday for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to enter the dispute.

The players’ association must agree for the conciliation service to enter talks. The union declined to comment, and its lawyers were expected to consult with players.

There was little movement in the last negotiating session on Tuesday, leaving almost no hope spring training workouts will start as scheduled on Feb. 16. Baseball’s ninth work stoppage, its first since 1995, will soon threaten opening day on March 31.

Players made a new proposal with small changes Tuesday during the first negotiating session in a week, and management has not responded.

The federal mediation service entered the 1981 talks, and mediator Kenneth Moffett helped reach a deal that ended a midseason strike after 50 days, a stoppage that resulted in 713 canceled games.

“It is done in a fishbowl,” Moffett told The Associated Press in 1994. “Every statement, every press release — anything — is for public consumption. In most negotiations, you don’t hear a peep until there’s a settlement.”

Moffett succeeded Marvin Miller as executive director of the players’ association in 1983 but was fired after 10 1/2 months. Moffett died last December at age 90.

After another strike began on Aug. 12, 1994, and led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years, President Bill Clinton picked former Labor Secretary W. J. Usery to mediate the dispute.

While Usery cajoled the sides into resuming talks, neither party found his presence productive in what has become a highly technical labor contract whose practices and effects outsiders have difficulty comprehending.

After Usery brought both sides to the White House and made suggestions for a settlement, the intransigent stances of both sides left Clinton “exasperated,” White House spokesman Mike McCurry said.

The 1994-95 strike ended on April 2, two days after the National Labor Relations Board obtained an injunction from U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor to restore the terms and conditions of the expired contract. A new deal was not reached until March 1997, long after Usery had departed the talks.

Gregory Goldstein was appointed as acting director of the FMCS on Dec. 22 by President Joe Biden. Javier Ramirez, the FMCS executive manager of the division of agency initiatives, was nominated by Biden to be director last June 9 but has not been confirmed by the Senate.

The FMCS assisted in talks during the 2011 NFL lockout and the 2011 NBA lockout, the 2012-13 NHL lockout, the 2015 Major League Soccer negotiations with its players and 2014 MLS negotiations with on-field officials.