PHOENIX – Major League Baseball will no longer use uniform labor contracts, league sources said, in agreements with standard language that MLB requires longtime managers, coaches, trainers and paid scouts to agree to among 30 teams.
Some teams used those contracts for workers above those categories. The change does not affect major or minor league players.
Clubs now have to draw up their own contracts for employees, which means that at least some of the contracts can now vary from team to team. Many UECs expire at the same point in a year, often on October 31, others on December 31. This means that some employees whose contracts expired at the end of October as of November 1 will now be subject to the new one. Group-specific contracts.
One longtime scout said Tuesday he feared clubs would try to incorporate language that now applies to personnel in a new way. Another classic scouting concept is that teams can also use independence as a competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent.
The switch is intended to shield the league office from liability, league sources said. The idea is that if a team is now sued in an employment case, it will be more difficult to successfully include the league as a joint employer defendant. It could also help the league if future antitrust litigation comes up with employment issues.
MLB has seen a variety of employment lawsuits in recent years. The end of UECs this year comes amid age discrimination lawsuits against both teams and league offices. MLB reached a $185 million settlement with the minor leagues last year.
Garrett Broschus, an attorney who represented minor league players in that case, said the effect of moving away from UECs on injured workers may not be immediately clear.
Broschus referred to the UECs as “known evil”. They included an anti-fraud clause that prevented contract workers from negotiating with another team while under contract, a measure critics found restrictive in small industries like baseball. Withdrawal from the UEC does not necessarily mean that clauses or other similar matters will disappear.
“The devil is in the details,” Broshuis said. “Groups show themselves to be more stressful. Are they going to basically do the same thing? What’s going to happen instead? That’s the great unknown.”
“I’d say a lot, at least in the short term, it’s going to be more of the same with teams mirroring each other based on what’s been done before.” … Sometimes they hope that competition will take over and that more favorable terms will begin to appear for workers.
The UEC’s hosting clause and other elements are considered by legal experts to have previously been aided by baseball’s exclusive exemption.
Several years ago, Broschus represented the Scouts in a lawsuit challenging the defamation clause among other UEC units. In this case the League prevailed, and antitrust exemption was a vital part of the League’s defense.
“If a scout signs a contract with the club and it’s the club’s official policy that we don’t let you out of the contract unless we’re asked and they’re going to call us etc., that’s it. The contract,” Stephen Ross, executive director of Penn State’s Center for the Study of Community Sports, said in a 2021 interview. “The problem with antitrust is when clubs mutually agree that they will not compete on that field. So if there was an agreement between clubs that they would only include this whole process in their scouts contracts, that would be an antitrust violation.
Exemptions can still give MLB teams the confidence to effectively protect certain elements of contracts, even if the contracts are generally different. And at the same time, a generally more diverse contract could help the league’s defenses in the event of future labor-related antitrust litigation.
MLB is constantly under fire for its treatment of both minor league players and minor league owners. The latter’s antitrust case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
The elimination of UECs would require a vote among MLB owners because they are included in the Major League Rules, a governing document controlled by the league.
UECs were in the news during the sport’s COVID-19 shutdown when MLB suspended labor contracts in 2020.
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