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Baseball Players, Owners Expect to Reach Deal to Avoid Shutdown

Labor: Talks continue into the morning to bridge differences over a payroll tax.

August 30, 2002|ROSS NEWHAN and JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Angels and the Dodgers are on paths that could lead to the playoffs, making the prospect of a strike especially painful. The Dodgers awaited word in Houston, where they were ready to either begin a three-game series against the Astros or go home.

"We've got this black cloud looming over us," said Dodger outfielder Dave Roberts. "This is my first opportunity to play every day in the big leagues, and it's been a good year for the Dodgers, and we've put ourselves in a position to go to the playoffs.... I hope that we can play this thing through."

A White House spokesman urged the two sides to reach agreement, saying they should consider the effect a strike could have on the country as it approaches the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The owners and players need to keep in mind not only what a strike would do to the future of baseball, but also what it would to America during a time of national unity and national spirit," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after talking to President Bush about the potential strike.

However, McClellan said the president, a former Texas Rangers owner, would not intercede.

"This is something the players and owners need to resolve," he said.

High-ranking officials from the commissioner's office and the union traveled back and forth between their respective Manhattan headquarters, trying to resolve the most contentious issue in talks that resumed in earnest after the All-Star break. Negotiators declined to comment as they moved from building to building and were greeted by fans holding signs encouraging them to get a deal done.

It is believed team owners and players agreed on a plan for increased revenue sharing--transferring money from high-revenue to low-revenue clubs--during multiple morning and afternoon bargaining sessions Thursday, but they remained apart on the thresholds and rates for a payroll tax heading into late-night talks.

Under the previous union plan, the minimum payroll subject to taxation would be $125 million in 2003, $135 million in 2004 and $145 million in 2005, after which the tax would end. Owners proposed thresholds of $107 million in the first three years of the contract and $111 million in 2006.

As of late Thursday, owners had increased their offer to $112 million in the first two years, $116 million in the third year and $120 million in the fourth, sources said. The union was believed to be working with thresholds of $120 million, $125 million, $130 million and $140 million.

Management proposed that a team would be taxed at 35% the first time it exceeded the threshold, 40% the second time, 45% the third time and 50% the fourth time. The players proposed tax rates of 15% to 40%, and sources said the sides were working to find common ground on that key front.

On revenue sharing, a lawyer familiar with the situation said about $255 million would be transferred in the new basic agreement. Word emerged late Thursday that a compromise was reached to broker that portion of a deal. Under terms of the latest known union proposal, clubs would share 33.3% of local revenue, up from 20% under the current deal.

"I hope something will get done," Schoeneweis said. "If something is not done, there won't be baseball [today]."

*

Newhan reported from New York and Reid from Anaheim. Times staff writer Mitchell Landsberg and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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