Only hours after gavels banged to open the 104th Congress on Wednesday, legislation was introduced in the Senate and House to strip baseball owners of their antitrust exemption.
The move may do little to solve the strike, which went through its 146th day, but it served notice that Congress may get involved in baseball 73 years after the Supreme Court created the exemption.
“The existing strike has been with us since August, and no end is in sight. The 1995 season is in grave jeopardy,” Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., said. “With none of the legal restraints that prevent other businesses from engaging in anti-competitive behavior, the baseball team owners are free to act as a cartel.”
Moynihan introduced the legislation in the Senate, with Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., offering a similar bill in the House.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., lent bipartisan support to Moynihan’s bill by co-sponsoring it. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, has said he would support such a move if the owners imposed their salary cap.
The most immediate effect of a repeal of the antitrust exemption would be to pave the way for players to file a court challenge against the salary cap owners imposed Dec. 23.
“It’s been our view for a very long time that we were building momentum and understanding in the last Congress, and we expected it to carry over to this Congress, and I think it has,” union head Donald Fehr said after leaving a meeting with Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “More and more, people understand that fundamentally, there’s a problem with the law here.”
Since the labor talks broke down two days before Christmas, the union has been pursuing a two-pronged legal approach. One hinges on congressional intervention; the other on an unfair labor practices charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
“You have people that believe they are entitled to act as a cartel, and they do,” Fehr said of the owners. “When that happens, you get results that aren’t in anyone’s interest except the cartel’s owners.”
As Congress reintroduced bills to remove baseball’s antitrust exemption, the sport’s management began setting the groundwork for replacement players.
Management lawyer Chuck O’Connor said the 10-man operations committee will consider expanded rosters to make room for replacements, new allowances for spring training and daily meal money, extra physical examinations and changes in termination pay. The group talked for about an hour Wednesday and probably will talk today.
O’Connor said the proposals for replacements will be presented to striking major leaguers for bargaining - a requirement of the labor law.
“Traditionally, unions in this context don’t want to consider it,” he said. “But I think the earlier we do that, the better. We ought not to do it piecemeal.”
Spring training is scheduled to open Feb. 16 and most teams say they expect to start on time.