Friday, May 1, 2020

MLB & Umpires Agree to COVID-19 Pay Cut

As the coronavirus shutdown drags on, Major League Baseball and the MLB Umpires Association agreed to reduce umpire pay in 2020, averting another potential source of discord between the umps and commissioner's office.

To set the table, full-time MLB umpires (MLBUA) receive a base salary and additional compensation for serving as a crew chief, working a certain amount of Spring Training games, and being selected to the postseason.

In the spirit of baseball theming, the umpires receive a Postseason Bonus as an annual perk; Unlike players, MLB umpires are paid year-round, over 12 months, as opposed to only during the season (or, alternately, umpires have their wages stretched out over the course of a full calendar year).

Umpires also receive a per diem for incidentals and other benefits such as retirement and health care.

MLB first considered E-Zones in April.
Ken Rosenthal from The Athletic reported that umpires have received 33% of their yearly pay, which represents the period from January through April.

Although Bob Nightengale reported an agreement that would reduce salaries by 30%, an AP report disputed Nightengale's claim. The deal, which also includes a reduction of the umpiring per diem by 20%, thus allows umpires to keep at least 37.5% of their usual pay whether or not a season with full crews (e.g., with umpires staffing Replay Review) is played.

The deal purportedly allows MLB to forgo Replay Review during the 2020 season. Coming to a return-to-play agreement with the umpires' union means MLB can now turn its attention to the MLB Players Association, which has not yet signed on to a deal.

Also, as previously reported, MLB retains the right to develop electronic strike zone technology in consultation with the umpires; either way, the new deal entitles umpires to the bulk of their usual base earnings.

Historical Proposals that Led Us to Where We Are Now
MLB's Nuclear Proposal: A Cancelled Season
As MLB and MLBUA negotiated on how to proceed, MLB proposed that in the event of a fully-cancelled season, MLB umpires will still receive some payments, including roughly 37.5% of their base wages, or about 4.5 months (Jan, Feb, March, April, 50% of May) of a 12-month salary. After all, umpires did attend their winter meetings and worked Spring Training games until MLB abruptly cancelled the preseason midday on March 12.

MLB and MLBUA agreed on a 2020 plan.
MLB's Proposal for a Salvaged Season
In the event of a shortened season, MLB reportedly proposed prorating the umpires' entire 2020 salaries with a 15% increase for a second Spring Training. Some MLBUA members initially sought to prorate only the remaining salary, as opposed to the entire year's wages.

For instance, consider a full-time umpire who has already received a third of this salary from January through April. If the season is cut in half, MLB's proposal would require a prorating of this umpire's entire base salary by 50%. Adding in the 15% for Spring Training #2 (a 27-day credit based upon the umpire's full salary), the umpire would collect roughly 65% of his annual base salary.

Prorated Rebuttal: Under the MLBUA members' suggestion to prorate just the unpaid portion of salary, the umpire in this scenario would keep the 33% of base salary already paid and just the remaining two-thirds would get the 50% slash. Thus ⅓ + (⅔ * 50%) = ⅓ +  =  without a 15% Spring Two bonus, or nearly 82% of his annual base salary if the 27-day credit were to be paid.

That would represent a difference of 17% of the umpire's annual base salary, not including bonuses or other benefit compensation.

MLB's proposal also sought to decrease umpire per diems by 20% to try for lower rates at hotels and also proposed holding off on a royalty licensing payment to MLBUA in 2020. Like it has for the players, MLB will credit umpires for a full year of service time and fully fund both retirement and health benefits. For any umpires under possible suspensions, much like Houston's AJ Hinch or Boston's Alex Cora, the year of service time would effectively wipe out the punishment.

Umps were initially ordered to pay MiLB.
By Comparison...
Minor League Baseball sought to solve the issue by initially ordering umpires assigned to MiLB Spring Training in March, when baseball entered its extended pause, to repay per diem advancements, further cautioning umpires that the act of filing for unemployment—even while potentially not drawing any wages—would constitute a resignation, according to the MiLB-AMLU CBA. Unlike MLB umpires, MiLB umpires are only paid during the season (and preseason/postseason), and their salaries are significantly less than six figures: a low of $2,000/month during the season to a high of $3,900/month during the season—amounting to roughly $20,000 for the year, if that. Per diems are also significantly less.
Related PostViral Insult - Umpires Allegedly Ordered to Pay MiLB (3/19/20).

Owing up to the chaotic nature of mid-March, the originally-reported situation was quickly rectified as AMLU and MiLB announced a structured plan just days later to suspend the CBA's "unemployment = resignation" provision while allowing umpires to keep per diem advancements and paying umpires for their original Spring Training schedules.
Related PostReversed - MiLB Umpires Get Spring Financial Relief (3/20/20).

Lower level umpires are not as fortunate.
Accordingly, full-season umpires (e.g., Full A, Double-A, Triple-A) were eligible to file for unemployment insurance (UI) beginning April 9, when those full season would have ordinarily started while short-season umpires (e.g., Rookie, Short-A) would have to wait until whatever their summer report date would have been (around June) before filing for UI.

Many states allow workers—even those not presently earning wages, but still employed by a W2 employer—to file for unemployment and collect benefits. The MiLB-AMLU CBA's resignation clause normally prohibits umpires for filing for unemployment even if they have the legal right to do so.

Put in Further Perspective:
And then there's the story of Little League umpire Tim Brown from Cartersville, Georgia, who is now living in his car while waiting for state unemployment benefits after losing both his umpiring and warehouse job.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: MLB, Umpires Agree to 2020 Salary Reduction (CCS)


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