N.H. unions grumble over Red Sox deal

New Englanders will have more than unkind words for the Major League Baseball Players Association should it squash the Red Sox’s attempt to trade for Texas Rangers’ shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

Some of those angry gestures could come from leaders of local unions, organizations that represent workers of more ordinary means – teachers, police, carpenters – and not multimillionaire athletes.

“It’s bordering on ridiculous. Unions are looking out for average American workers, and baseball players are not among those ranks,” said Maureen McNeil, president of the New Hampshire Federation of Teachers.

Nashua police Officer John Newell, president of the Nashua Police Patrolmen’s Association, agrees.

“It’s like apples and oranges,” Newell said. “These people make tens of millions of dollars. I’m not really sympathetic to the needs of someone making $20 million a year. It’s hard to relate when you put your life on the line and you’re making a hell of a lot less than that.”

For anyone who has lived in a spider hole the past month, the Boston Red Sox have been negotiating to trade slugger Manny Ramirez for Rodriguez. But Rodriguez has a 10-year, $252 million contract, with seven years and $189 million remaining on the richest deal in sports history.

The Red Sox publicly called off trade talks Thursday after the players union rejected a restructuring of Rodriguez’s contract. But the deal may not be as “dead” as Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino indicated; Rodriguez, his agent and the Rangers still hold out hope they can finalize an accord. And baseball commissioner Bud Selig could approve a deal against the union’s wishes.

Rodriguez was willing to reduce his contract by $29 million, according to The Boston Globe, in exchange for other concessions. The collective bargaining agreement dictates that a contract can be reworked only if there is some other added value for the player should his base salary be reduced.

In many respects, representatives of New Hampshire-based unions said they realize that the Players Association must not give ground.

For instance, New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie sees the inner workings of this big baseball swap as “a classic standoff,” except that the millions of dollars under consideration involve one baseball player and not a score of workers.

“Union members are protecting not only the interest of Alex, but all players,” MacKenzie said. “It’s solidarity on behalf of the union.”

Collective bargaining negotiations, in essence, start with management having all the authority, and then unions negotiate for rights, MacKenzie said. With time, unions gain more ground, but they most always do not relinquish what they have secured, he said.

“The Players Association fought pretty hard for what it’s got, and it’s not going to slide,” he said.

But union loyalties aside, McNeil and Newell think the players union has overstepped its bounds, especially considering that even with a pay cut, Rodriguez would still make more than most workers.

“I definitely had an inward groan myself,” McNeil said of when she heard the Players Association had put the Rodriguez-Ramirez deal in a potential tailspin.

“I knew this would be bad press for unions. . . . All of Boston, Massachusetts and New England is waiting with bated breath to hear (of a deal) and they may not have good opinions of unions because of this.”

Joe Donahue, education coordinator for the New Hampshire Carpenters Union, said he already hears organized labor taking some undeserved hits over the Rodriguez deal.

“The union of Major League Baseball is not the same type of union like my union,” Donahue said. “We’re dealing with people, out there, every single day trying to make ends meet. No union carpenter is going to make $225 million in the next five years, or 10 years. It’s so unreal.”

Newell hopes the Red Sox will still find a way to acquire Rodriguez, whether the Players Association likes it or not.

For him, the ends justify the means in helping the Red Sox win a World Series.

“The union should be for the greater good of the game, and for a guy who wants to go to Boston,” he said. “We now have (ace pitcher Curt) Schilling. God bless him, they should let A-Rod go (to Boston). If (bank robber John) Dillinger could throw a 100 mph fastball, I’d parole him and let him play for the Red Sox.”