The Ramirez Provision

Every office I’ve ever worked in — and it’s a list that keeps growing longer and longer for some reason — has had a perky person in charge of the United Way fund drive. A couple of times a year they host a “kickoff” meeting at which ice cream and forms to debit money from your paycheck for the charity are passed around, and entreaties to push the office up to 100% participation are repeated over and over.

I’m pro charity, but these things bug me for two main reasons. First, I have some issues with how the United Way and other chairty clearinghouses spend their money, so I prefer to spend my charity dollars more directly. Second — and it’s kinda tied to the first reason — I can’t shake the suspicion that there’s some lavishly wasteful insider party thrown for the people who get their offices up to this magical “100% participation” standard, because that goal is repeated like a mantra, usually divorced from any philanthropic impulse and sentiment. Like it’s the end itself. Sure, charities are being helped in all of this, but I question the incentives and motivation and can’t shake the feeling that, within the office, the United Way drive is more about networking and allowing the organizers to buff the “community activities” portion of their resume than it is about helping people in need.

Rather than the semi-annual fundraising push, maybe my employers should just insist on Ramirez provisions:

Manny Ramirez’s presence will be felt long after his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers ends. The slugger’s recent signing has inspired the club to institute a so-called “Ramirez provision” in all of its future contracts.

Players signing with the team will be required to donate a portion of their salary to the Dodgers Dream Foundation, team owner Frank McCourt said Thursday.

“Every future Dodger will be asked to fill in a blank line,” he said in remarks to Town Hall Los Angeles. “They’re making a lot of money, these players. We won’t tell them how much to contribute, that wouldn’t be right.”

Look, I have nothing bad to say about the Dodger Dream Foundation, and I realize that requiring a donation to it isn’t going to preclude most players from engaging in other charitable activities. But I’d much prefer that if a team is going to mandate charitable donations by its players that they at least give the players the choice of how to spend their money.

UPDATE: I didn’t see this before posting, but there is a discussion about the United Way and other forced-charity fun over at BTF this morning.

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Comments

  1. Larry Seltzer said...

    Fair point. Do the players have any input in the activities of the Dodger Dream Foundation? That could be another way to approach it, not as good as letting them decide what to do with the money.

  2. pete said...

    Who needs ethics? Don’t you care about the children?

    This kind of stuff offends me, too, and the worst part is that by standing up to it, you end up hurting the charity and risk looking like a jerk.

  3. tadthebad said...

    I think it’s great if MLB players willingly contribute to charity, and I am involved with a couple myself.  But I don’t know that mandating employees contribute to charity is all that, ahem, fair.  Isn’t it their money after all?  How can anyone, even the employee’s employer, force one to give to charity?  Is that even legal?  Are the Dodgers trying to do an excellent impersonation of the US Gov?

    Again, willingly contributing to charity is great and I fully support that.  But if those contributions are forced, can we even consider that “charity”?

  4. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    I don’t think the donation is forced, just encouraged.  Sure, encouraged with a twisted arm but not forced.  It’s a fine line, no question.

    But I’m in the camp that any donation is a good one, even if someone’s getting an insider party.  To me, that’s almost immaterial.

  5. pete said...

    But I’m in the camp that any donation is a good one, even if someone’s getting an insider party.  To me, that’s almost immaterial.

    Of course. The problem is that when someone takes a stand against this type of arm-twisting, they end up being stigmatized (What? You don’t like the United Way?) and the charity doesn’t end up with the money.

  6. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    @Pete: I hear ya, believe me.  I understand and respect that, but teams are as much of a local trust/institution as they are a private enterprise and I don’t think it’s bad that ownership expects its employees to make a donation that will (hopefully) benefit localities. It’s not like being forced/“encouraged” by your company to make a donation. I think the public nature of a professional ball club changes the dynamic.

  7. Millsy said...

    I’ve done some research on this stuff recently.  A lot of the teams that have their own foundations are doing this these days.  Vernon Wells’s contract with the Blue Jays a few years ago was for something along the lines of $136 million with the provision that $1 million of that would go to the Blue Jays Foundation.  I’m not sure what I think of it.  Obviously, charity is, in the correct form, a good thing.  And a lot of players do not start up their own foundations until they have their feet under them (for obvious reasons). 

    Encouraging this in contracts can be a way to get the players more interested in what their money is doing.  The Dodgers could just be using this as a public way to show the money they put into their foundation.  Maybe the Blue Jays planned on putting $1 million into their foundation anyway…why not make it uber-public with a big signing of a free agent?  I would imagine either way, it works out that the player, knowing of this provision, negotiates that into the contract.  I don’t think mandating players to give to charity is necessarily going to drive players away, but it ultimately will make their contracts a little lighter than other offers.

    While the players aren’t the ones that decided to build stadiums with public funds, I think that teams, especially ones that receive multi-hundred million tax dollar deals, should be looking for ways to give back (as Jason says above).  In the end, the ‘mandatory’ nature doesn’t convince me that it’s taking anything from the player.

  8. themarksmith said...

    Yeah, a guy making $100 million could stand to donate a little money. Now, the guys who sign for $1-3 million could also stand to donate a little, but I sure wouldn’t make him donate $1MM. To whom much is given, much is expected.

    As for the “knowing where it is going”, that’s nice in theory, but I doubt many of these players really care where it’s going. They want the tax break. If they do care, they probably have their own foundation, and if they do, they should be exempt from this clause, considering their focus is there and are presumably giving money to it.

    It’s not like they’re being tithed. Manny gave up 1/45 of his contract. For normal businesses, I don’t know how I’d feel about it, but baseball players can afford it.

  9. tadthebad said...

    Millsy, if it’s mandatory, then isn’t it, by definition, a form of “taking”?  And if the mandatory charitable donation is comped by the team, then where does the “charity” fit in?

    I agree that “forcing” a millionaire athlete like Manny to give $1 million to charity (something he was loathe to do while in Boston, btw) is not hurting the player.  But that really isn’t the point.  Millionaire or not, I’m not in favor of forcing people to part with their property as a means of doing business.

  10. Millsy said...

    I never said that forcing people to donate money is something I’m for.  I WAS NOT insinuating that it wasn’t hurting the player just because they have lots of money.  The point is, the teams aren’t technically taking it from the player.  They’re donating it themselves.  If the charity donation of $1 million makes a contract from the Dodgers $1 million less than the Red Sox are offering, the Dodgers lose out on the player.  So, in the Wells example:

    Wells’s best offer elsewhere (not sure, but just making this up): $134,999,999.
    Blue Jays offer: $136-$1=$135 million

    The Jays only had to offer $135 to get Wells (putting intangibles aside).  If Wells had a $135,999,999 offer somewhere else, he takes it, since the Blue Jays contract is really only $135 (assuming he is indifferent to giving to charity).  Theoretically, there isn’t any reason for the Jays to offer more than the $135 to get him…so they don’t…and they get publicity for $1 million going to their charity.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really come out of the player’s pocket because of the competitive nature of the labor market in the MLB.

    I was not advocating requiring palyers to pay any money.  And my point was NOT that it won’t hurt them just because they have lots of money.  Of course it hurts…it’s a million bucks.  If they didn’t care about a million bucks, we wouldn’t have such cut throat contract negotiations.

  11. Brian in Topeka said...

    I just wanted to say that our United Way Kickoff is way better than yours have been.  Last year it involved a trycicle race with our CEO dressed as a Ricky-Bobbyesque character and the thing was themed after Taladega Nights.  There were executives cross-dressing, and a skit that was video taped to make sure the embarrasing moments were never forgotten.  Plus I got out of a couple hours of work and got free soda and hot dogs.  That’s the type of United Way kickoff that inspires people to 100%!

  12. kranky kritter said...

    There need be no stigma if one simply practices charity and has reasonable forthright established standards. If one is serious about charity, one can make it a part of one’s budget and spend it on carefully chosen charities that fit one’s standards for both worthiness and efficiency. In other words, you can chose charities that have personal meaning to you, and which are rated by the portion of collected money that goes to overhead among other things. If you take control of your own charitable giving, you can apply the litmus tests that make sense to you.
    consider this, which suggests going beyond overhead costs.

    Then it’s fair to say “We budget for charity and target our contributions towards personal choices that fit our family outlook, so I’m declining, but thanks for thinking of me.”
    Of course, since this big company per pressure charity stuff is so endemic, maybe budgeting for the smallest possible contribution is the least painless approach overall. If you can do a buck per paycheck to get everyone off the hook, you show you’re a team player, that’s worthwhile.

  13. Jack Marshall said...

    I am constitutionally incapable of having any sympathy for Manny, but a boss or superior asking you to give money (or time, for that matter) to a company-endorsed charity is per se unethical and an abuse of power…soft extortion, really. I use this situation in business ethics trainings…most people who do it never think about it as unethical, focusing on the ends rather than the means.

    All fundraising plays on relationships, but when there’s an unstated threat to employment (or to losing a superior’s good graces) it’s over the line. Thanks, Craig, for raising this. It almost makes up for the Tolkien references.

    Almost.

  14. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Jack—do you object to the existence of the Tolkein references, or the fact that I bungled the spelling of a couple of them?  Because that really makes a big difference re: how I think of you as a person.  wink

  15. Jack Marshall said...

    Oh, no question: I object to the references themselves. Now, if you had alluded to “hit-points” charisma and octagonal dice, that would have been admirable. (We all have our inner-geek, Craig.)

  16. themarksmith said...

    I would like to mention that Manny did sign the contract. If he had something wrong with it, he could have not signed. It’s not like he didn’t do that the entire off-season.

  17. Jack Marshall said...

    Mark…and I don’t think Craig was suggesting that Manny’s situation was exactly analogous to the United Way shakedown. If someone wants to condition a contract offer on one’s agreement to give to a charity or the Man-Boy Love Association, that’s not coercion; it may be lousy negotiation technique, but the offer can always be refused without losing anything other party had before negotiations began.

    I assumed that the charity provision was a way to let Manny save face by signing a deal that really was less than 45 million

  18. GBS said...

    I’m bothered by the “they’re rich baseball players, so they can afford it” train of thought.  Sure they’ve got lots of money, but why does that make it right for someone else to tell them how to spend it?

    Maybe Manny would have given that $1 million to the United Way, the American Cancer Society or the Red Cross.  Maybe he would have bought a stake in a cricket team.  Is it an of our business how he spends his money?  I say no.

    I support certain charities, but I do so because that’s my personal choice, not someone else’s.

  19. Jack Marshall said...

    The principle you articulate, GBS, is one I absolutely support, but I don’t think that’s what happened with Manny. He rejected the 45 mil. deal and pissed off the owner. He came crawling back. The owner said, OK, we’ll go ahead and make the deal, but you have to accept less money. Or, if you want the same figures, then you have to give a million to charity, because this whole drama is making you look like a greedy ass, and that’s bad for business. And Manny could have walked away.

    Giving to the charity became a contract provision and a term of employment. What’s wrong with that? Manny can “choose” to play third base, too, but not if he wanted to sign with the Dodgers. As long as it’s part of an equal bargaining context, requiring a donation to a specific charity is no different than adding a weight requirement, a dress or grooming code, or requiring the player to make public appearances. I have no problem with it.

  20. Todd said...

    My understanding regarding the “100% participation” thing in corporate America re: the United Way is it’s a metric that a business can brag about. Rather than measuring dollars contributed (wouldn’t be fair, some businesses are bigger, have more money, etc.), they just measure the percentage of employees contributing. The higher your percentage, the better you look compared to other local businesses in terms of your “community involvement” (even though I know from the information I got earlier this year that you don’t actually have to contribute ANYTHING, you can fill out the form and put in 0 and you still count toward the participation metric). It’s a bit pathetic, but at the same time, it’s not nearly as bad as having a wasteful celebratory party as the incentive for hitting the magic 100%.

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