Press Briefing by Secretary of Labor Bob Reich, Bill Usery, Bud Selig, and Don Fehr
The Briefing Room
4:00 P.M. EDT
SECRETARY REICH: Good afternoon. For the last two months, the sounds of silence have replaced the Boys of Summer. For the first time since 1904, there will be no World Series. But now, maybe, just maybe, fall is bringing some hope.
This afternoon I am delighted to announce that, at my request, former Labor Secretary Bill Usery has agreed to mediate the labor dispute between Major League Baseball players and owners. And the players and owners have agreed to resume negotiations with Bill Usery as special mediator.
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director John Calhoun Wells indicated that the time was right, in his view, for a special mediator to step in and help. And Secretary Usery is ideal for the job. He is the man for the job. The special mediator's role, I should add, is extremely important. He will help bring the parties together, encourage them to keep talking and, we hope, help them resolve their disagreements so that fans will be able to enjoy opening day 1995. If a settlement is to be found, Bill Usery is the man to find it.
Now, this is no easy undertaking, but Bill Usery is no ordinary man. He served as Secretary of Labor under President Ford and has held senior positions in the administrations of three other presidents, including three years as National Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Today, after being involved in many of the biggest labor battles over the last 20 years, he is considered the nation's top mediator. Indeed, Secretary Usery has made a habit of doing things that others said could not be done. For example, he played a key role in bringing together the United Auto Workers, General Motors and Toyota in establishing the successful, new United Motors joint venture.
In October of 1989, Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole named him special mediator in the Pittston miners strike, and that, as you may recall, was an especially bitter dispute that drew national attention. Against great odds, he drew the parties together. And last fall, I called on him to resolve a difficult and, at times, violent coal operators strike. Once again he came through. In fact, I remember calling Bill. He was just beginning a vacation in the Florida Keys -- a fishing vacation -- and I said, Bill, the nation needs you. And he stopped his vacation and came through -- as he has done once again. Bill Usery is truly the Mr. October of labor negotiations.
Now, let me be clear. These negotiations are tough. They are very difficult issues to be resolved. But baseball fans across the country want these two sides to reach an agreement. And with the addition of Secretary Usery, we've got a process in place to help make that happen. The rest is up to the players and the owners.
Let me introduce to you now, Bill Usery.
MR. USERY: Thank you very much Mr. Secretary, and I deeply appreciate the very kind words that you said about me. It's been my honor, as you have said, to serve the government and respond to requests to not only mediate disputes, but to help do other things in the government. It is always an honor to me to serve my country in any way that I can.
Mr. Secretary. I appreciate the confidence that you have shown in me. I certainly appreciate the confidence that both the owners and the union have shown in me, and I realize that this is a most difficult dispute. It is a dispute that can't be resolved easily, nor quickly. In fact, what little bit that I do know about the things in the dispute, it will take considerable time and considerable effort. I have committed and do commit myself with all the energy and what expertise I have to bring about a resolution not only of the dispute, but, hopefully, that we can provide the framework for the future of the great game of baseball.
We know that we look at baseball -- it's a game that we play in America that is great, and we call it our national pastime. It also is a business for 28 owners. And it's also very important to a labor organization or a union who represents the players. And I recognize their roles and their responsibilities. And I think I understand them.
It also involves many other people, not only the fans of baseball, which is so important to the game itself, but the thousands of people who work for and about baseball. So it is not just owners and players, but it's others involved. And, obviously, we must be very concerned about those.
As I committed myself, I commit to give, as I say, the time and the effort to do my utmost to bring about a resolution to the dispute. Obviously, I cannot order either side to do anything. I will use all within my persuasive power to try to achieve that. As I said, where you have many different people involved and you have multiemployers in this case and one union, it becomes extremely difficult.
I accept the challenge. I look forward to working with these gentlemen here and others whom I respect and will hope that I will continue to respect. I will do it in confidence. And I think we have to be sure that we not try to negotiate in the open, but we negotiate together while we can consummate an agreement.
So, Mr. Secretary, I accept your challenge. I appreciate the confidence of the two parties here in accepting me. And I pledge to do my utmost to try to achieve the goal that we set for ourselves.
Thank you very much.
MR. SELIG: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'd like to, on behalf of the 28 clubs in Major League Baseball, thank you for your efforts. We're delighted, frankly, that the bargaining process is going to resume. We obviously believe this is a very constructive step that, hopefully, will come to a fruitful conclusion. Mr. Usery's credentials have been well-chronicled, and we were, and are, very appreciative of that. And so we look forward to the beginning of a process that all of us hope will have a reasoned and satisfactory conclusion.
MR. FEHR: Just very briefly, as most of you know, history of negotiations in baseball has not been a good one. We've had now work stoppage in eight successive negotiations. Several of those work stoppages have been long. This one apparently will be the longest.
Obviously, negotiations need to resume, and we've been working towards that end. And obviously, in a manner of speaking and without being light-hearted about it, I think it's safe to say that we can use all the constructive help we can get. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. So, obviously, we're pleased this step is taken. And, hopefully, it will lead to a successful conclusion.
I think that Mr. Usery is correct that this is a matter which will take considerable time and effort. And our position is as it always has been -- you go day by day and, hopefully, one day you'll wake up and it will be done with.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY REICH: Let us now take any questions that any of you may have.
Q: What is the exact timetable for all three of you -- well, two parties and Mr. Usery -- where do you go now? What's the next step?
MR. FEHR: We have had informal discussions with some management representatives for some period of time about resuming. And I expect discussions in some form to resume next week. I think it's a circumstance in which we need to appreciate that before Mr. Usery can make constructive suggestions, he's going to have spend a period of time watching us and learning what the issues are, and I'm sure that he'll be involved in that as soon as we get going.
SECRETARY REICH: Other questions?
MR. USERY: May I just add to that? Obviously, this is a very complex dispute, and I would not stand here and profess to understand all of the things that go into it. So it will take some time talking with the parties separately, and certainly we'll be holding a meeting, as Don has said, if we can, very shortly together. But mostly, for the next period of time, I will be trying to spend time with the parties separately to fully understand their positions and to become knowledgeable in almost all the details that I can.
Q: Secretary Usery, as you well know, Mr. Wells was involved in players and owners discussions for a while and no fruit was yielded from that. Maybe you can tell us what you would do differently or how you think you might be able to settle this thing.
MR. USERY: Well, I have the utmost respect for Mr. Wells, who is National Director of the Mediation Service, and I'm not quite sure -- I wasn't there -- how Mr. Wells carried out his role in that endeavor. I certainly wouldn't have undertook this if I didn't think maybe I could do something differently than was done then to bring about a settlement.
I am sure at the time -- and also, I might tell you that disputes, like anything else, timing is very important. Keep in mind that when they were involved they were trying to preserve a season, they were trying to see if we could have the World Series. And now what we're trying to do is spend enough time and enough understanding with each other that not only do we reach a new collective bargaining agreement, but we reach a framework for the future of baseball. And certainly, come next spring, everybody will be ready, as the Secretary said, to play ball.
SECRETARY REICH: Let me add to -- and I'll just go over one thing Secretary Usery just said. Timing really is of the essence here. It wasn't clear that months ago the time was ready, the parties were ready. We've been monitoring the situation very carefully since early June. We've been in touch with the parties. The Mediation Service has been very active. The Mediation Service, John Calhoun Wells contacted us recently and suggested that the time was right to appoint a special mediator.
Q: I'd like to ask both sides if there's been any progress or any movement on the salary cap issue, or are the talks still kind of at the same point they were a few months ago?
SECRETARY SELIG: We have had, as Don said, some discussions, but they've been very informal. And I think that relative to where we are now as opposed to where we were two months ago, it's safe to say that we're generally in the same areas. But that's something that, frankly, is the reason we need to come back in an organized and a structured way and resume conversations.
Q: Mr. Usery, do you want Bud at the bargaining table?
SECRETARY USERY: Well, I don't -- I'm not commenting today on who I would want at the table or who not. I want everyone at the table that can influence these negotiations and have a role in them at one time or another. But I understand both the union would have its negotiating committee and the management will have its negotiating committee. And certainly I'll do my utmost to work with those to achieve the satisfactory settlement.
Q: Back to the question of timetable. When would you all expect that the two sides will be back around the table together in the joint collective bargaining negotiating? How many weeks are we talking about?
SECRETARY USERY: Well, you recognize -- I'm sure you must recognize that almost -- this is the first time I have met with both of these parties together, when we came in the White House today. So we have some discussion. A lot of your questions cannot be answered today. It's been indicated they have been planning to get back together. Certainly we want to get back together as soon as we can, but I am not going to get back together until I kind of understand parties' positions and how we might go, and how we can set the framework for having -- beginning on the right foot, to have a productive meeting.
Q: Did you all meet with the President today?
SECRETARY REICH: No, we have not met with the President.
Q: Will they before they leave?
SECRETARY REICH: We may meet with the President before we all leave the building. I'm not sure.
Q: Mr. Usery, knowing the little you do about how complex a dispute this is, could you estimate how long it would take you, meeting with each side separately, to get up to the point where you feel you could call for a joint meeting?
MR. USERY: No, I could not. In fairness to both sides -- and it certainly would be unfair that if I didn't feel that I fully understand their positions and understand the issues -- I owe it to both parties to do that. And we've already said this is a very complex dispute and it is going to take a lot of effort. It is going to take a lot of time. And I intend to try to do my utmost, recognizing that both sides have their right to a position and to see if we can blend those positions into something that would be good for what we're trying to do.
Q: Are you going to set a deadline of trying to get an agreement in time for spring training to open? Do you have any kind of -- well, maybe the question should be, does either side think that we can start spring training on time?
MR. USERY: Well, I don't think we -- hopefully, that we can resolve a dispute as early as possible and, certainly, we hope before springtime, and we hope for before that time. But I think we need to take all the time that's necessary to achieve the agreement. And I think it would be unfair here today to say that we have any deadline to meet because certainly, again, we haven't even met, haven't even talked about anything like that.
Q: You said it's a good idea not to negotiate out in the open --
MR. USERY: Yes.
Q: do you think too much has gotten out? What's the reason to keep it very secret?
MR. USERY: Well, I always -- in any dispute, both sides have to have a position themselves. And while, certainly, I'm sure, the parties here want to keep the press fully involved -- and they should, for many reasons -- but that's one subject that we want to talk about, and I hope that I keep either side from saying things publicly that makes it more difficult to achieve a collective bargaining agreement. That's the main thing I'm concerned about.
We have a lot of talking together, and I said a while ago -- I use the word conciliation, I think -- also, we want to be conciliatory and we want to understand the issues and then see if we can't mediate a settlement out of that.
Q: Mr. Usery, even before you get up to speed on this, would you encourage, or urge, the owners not to declare an impasse in negotiations and unilaterally implement their proposal?
MR. USERY: I would not comment on any issue like that today. Again, I haven't formed any opinion about anything like that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:16 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Secretary of Labor Bob Reich, Bill Usery, Bud Selig, and Don Fehr Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269526