Monday, March 23, 2009

Say it Ain't So! MLB Players Association Files Grievance to Stop Mandatory Charitable Contributions

Baseball season starts soon.  I live in Florida -- in St. Petersburg, to be exact -- where baseball is not at all appreciated.  St. Pete, for example, has the worst baseball stadium in the whole world.  Its dark and dank with artificial turf, just awful.  Like playing baseball in an old, poorly lit basketball arena.  People in Florida don't appreciate a warm day at the ballpark like they do in places like Pittsburgh and Chicago.  Ah yes, the wafting smell of hotdogs, brats, and cotton candy in the stands.  I suppose I understand why, but there are ways to provide shade even at outdoor stadiums in Florida.  Fortunately, I will be spending some time in Pittsburgh this summer -- the team there ain't that good, but they have a terrific stadium and there are always good seats. 

But I digress.  On Friday, the major league baseball association filed a grievance alleging that major league teams are acting unfairly when they insert clauses in ballplayers' contracts requiring that the players contribute a certain percentage of their salaries to team affiliated charities.  The players' association website has information and press releases on just about all the great things ball players do, including volunteer service and pharmaceutical commericals (not really), but strangely no mention of the grievance.  I guess they prefer not to publicize this part of their community spirit.  To get an idea of what's going on, see this Newsday article.  Here is a teaser:

On Friday, a rare day without a WBC game during the tournament's 19-day run, the players association filed a grievance regarding, of all things, the inclusion of designated charity contributions in players' contracts. What the union wants from a third-party arbitrator, should the grievance get that far in the process, is money returned to the players who already have made such donations.  The Mets are one of 22 teams identified that have utilized this practice, according to the union's notice of grievance to central baseball. The others are Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, the Cubs, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Colorado, Detroit, Florida, Houston, the Angels and Dodgers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Texas and Toronto.  It's a growing trend in baseball: When free agents sign with teams, they're essentially required to donate a percentage of their salary to a charity "associated or affiliated with the Club," to use the union's wording.

I guess I am all for "freedom of giving" and don't like the idea of forced contributions.  I would side with the teams, nevertheless, if the clauses merely required players to give to a charity of their own selection.  Why should the team get to select the charity?  On the other hand, these are not really "mandatory" charitable contributions.  A player can always turn down the contract -- but who would do such a foolish thing, give up a major league baseball career over a charitable contribution dispute.  MLB is a buyer's market.  Only a few players are so rare that they cannot be replaced by someone else laboring away in the minor leagues -- and thus can demand the removal of the clause.  So maybe the charitable contribution clause is a contract of adhesion after all. 


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