The MLBPA Has a New Chief Negotiator

The biggest legal news to come out of Major League Baseball last week was the hiring of attorney Bruce Meyer as the union’s new “Senior Director of Collective Bargaining and Legal.” In other words, Meyer is the MLBPA’s new chief negotiator with Major League Baseball.

Why is Meyer a big deal? First, because he quite literally wrote the book on sports law. But Meyer is far more than an academic and author (though that would be impressive enough in terms of credentials). Meyer, a partner at Weil, Gotshal, and Manges LLP, is a trained trial lawyer with more than 30 years of experience in contested litigation. But it’s the nature of those cases that is relevant here. From Meyer’s biography at the Practicing Law Institute:

Mr. Meyer has extensive jury trial experience, having tried lengthy and complex cases to juries in locales across the country, including New York, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Western Massachusetts, Boston, and Texas.

[…]

Among other notable victories, Mr. Meyer: successfully defended Westinghouse in a major products liability action, resulting in a defendant’s jury verdict after a three-month trial; struck down the NFL’s free agency restrictions after a three-month antitrust jury trial; prevailed in a complex six week reinsurance arbitration for Life Re; achieved a complete defense verdict for Procter & Gamble after a three-week jury trial; and achieved a complete defense verdict in a $70 million preference action against Prudential. Recently, he obtained punitive damages after trial in a trade secret case, obtained a mandatory preliminary injunction for Vivendi in a high-profile case involving the launch of a major music television channel, obtained summary judgment for GlaxoSmithKline dismissing all claims in a suit alleging trademark, false advertising and trade secret violations, won bench trials for eBay and XM Satellite Radio, and prevailed in arbitrations for Rolls Royce and for PAI Partners, a leading French private equity firm.

In other words, Meyer is, by just about any metric, on the short list of the best trial lawyers in the United States and very likely the world — and he has experience turning around labor disputes for unions. In 2016, the National Hockey League’s union hired him to handle their legal matters in the midst of ongoing litigation and disputes with the League. Before that, Meyer was the first to win free-agency rights for players in the NBA, then beat the NFL’s free-agency restrictions in McNeil v. NFL. In other words, Meyer is the only trial lawyer on the planet to have won the right of free agency for two of the four major North American sports.

So he makes a lot of sense for the MLBPA at its current crossroads. The current collective bargaining agreement is, to put it lightly, not popular among MLBPA members, particularly after it contributed to the slowest offseason ever. Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner, is a labor lawyer. Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, is not. And while that might not be a problem in and of itself — a collective bargaining agreement is a massive undertaking with lots of lawyers involved on both sides — there’s no doubting that the addition of Meyer represents a shift in the union’s approach. If the labor negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA are a knife fight, Meyer is the gun.

That’s not to say Meyer is bulletproof; nobody this side of Clarence Darrow is undefeated in the legal world. In this line of work, there’s a saying: “Show me a lawyer who’s never lost a case, and I’ll show you a lawyer who’s never tried a case.” Meyer is no exception. And he didn’t exactly improve labor relations during his stint with the NHL; in particular, the Olympics remained a hotly disputed issue there. (Besides, you don’t hire a litigator to make friends — you hire a litigator to win cases and improve your rights.)

Of course, Meyer arrived at the NHL after their CBA had already been finalized in 2013. But Meyer also had a trump card in his cases against the NBA and NFL that he doesn’t have with MLB: the Sherman Antitrust Act that he can’t use in MLB thanks to baseball’s much maligned but still extant antitrust exemption. (EDIT: Theoretically, Meyer could get around the antitrust problem by dissolving the union, as Nathaniel Grow discussed here, but I doubt very much based on his record that he’d consider that as anything other than a last resort.)

Nevertheless, Meyer is far more than a one-trick pony. Even 10 years ago, he was already shifting his practice towards frontiers in sports law beyond antitrust, as he relates in this interview with Corporate Counsel Business Journal which is well worth your time. An excerpt from that same interview:

[T]he nature of the practice has shifted away from antitrust. For many years the practice was concerned with establishing the rights of players to pick where they wanted to play. That trend culminated with the FreemanMcNeil trial, the first and only jury trial on the antitrust merits of sports league restrictions on players. Having established the basic principle of free agency, today we are focused more on the IP and licensing aspects of the business.

Players in all professional sports have IP rights worth an extraordinary amount of money. We do a great deal of work with the players on their rights of publicity. Our practice today has a particular focus on protecting these rights and, when necessary, litigating over them.

If there’s anyone who can maximize the players’ rights over their intellectual property, it’s Meyer. The amount of leverage that would give the MLBPA is massive, considering just what a right of publicity entails. MLB can’t market itself without its players; that’s because, absent a player contract (or a CBA) stating otherwise, legally each player owns his own likeness. So imagine what would happen during CBA negotiations if the players took a hard line on that intellectual property. And that’s just one example – Meyer is among the best intellectual-property litigators in the world, and has the ability to open revenue streams the union didn’t know it had.

This isn’t to say that there necessarily will be unrest during the next round of CBA negotiations, or before then. But after MLB and the MLBPA traded barbs over team spending and player uniforms this season, this is the first tangible step the union has taken to show its players it has no intention of repeating the mistakes of the past. But all of that said, Meyer’s hiring can’t be considered as anything other than a home run for the union here. Meyer is a self-described “player advocate” and the objective best in the business. Whatever the next CBA looks like, the MLBPA can say it won’t be for lack of trying.

We hoped you liked reading The MLBPA Has a New Chief Negotiator by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is an attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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hoph
Member
hoph

Let’s hope minor leaguers get a seat at the table next round. Below min wage for these guys is pathetic.

JLandon_DC
Member
JLandon_DC

Be careful what you wish for, for you will surely get it. Extending the MLBPA to the minor leagues has plenty of up-side but there could easily be some perilous unexpected consequences.

RWinUT
Member
Member
RWinUT

Heck, as long as wages go up they don’t have to change much of anything to make a huge improvement for minor league baseball.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

And if minor league wages go up dramatically then you can expect 80% of current minor leaguers (the “suspects”) to be laid off, all MLB teams to drop down to only 1 or 2 minor league teams, and the great majority of American cities that have minor league teams will suddenly lose them. The only reason the minor leagues exist in the form they are today is because they are readily affordable. The instant they become non-readily-affordable, most of them are history.

With that will come reduced opportunities.

Be careful what stupid things you wish for.

jacob2
Member
jacob2

If the minor leagues can’t stay solvent without paying better than minimum wage, they shouldn’t exist.

Jay
Member
Member
Jay

What the hell are you talking about?

Minor league affiliates don’t pay their players’ salaries. The MLB parent club pays all of that.

imachainsaw
Member
imachainsaw

if you aren’t new, you should know by now to ignore the angry old man ramblings of johnston