MLB Players Ponder the Emergency Option

Max Scherzer
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
March 8, 2022

With every passing day, the 2022 Major League Baseball season is increasingly imperiled by the inability of team owners and players to arrive at a new labor agreement. This past week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the cancellation of early regular season games. The two sides will continue to negotiate, but at some point, the MLB Players Association may do something truly bold—decertification as a union.

Why do that? Imagine for a moment that your employer gets together with its chief competitors and conspires to stop runaway salaries in your industry. From here on out, they agree, no company can spend past a set amount without incurring a penalty. But that’s not all. These companies don’t want to compete with one another for top college graduates. So, every year, they will take turns claiming exclusive rights to young talent. Oh, and new employees won’t be eligible to defect for seven years. Does that sound illegal? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on whether this arrangement is collectively bargained. If so, it gets a free pass under what’s called the “non-statutory labor exception” to antitrust law. Getting rid of the union—at least on a temporary basis—becomes a step in challenging the team owners’ coordination.