Tag:George Cohen
Posted on: November 3, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 9:56 pm
 

Denying rift, players set to resume talks

NEW YORK -- Declaring their unity and determination not to accept a bad deal just to save the season, officials from the National Basketball Players Association said Thursday they will meet again with league negotiators this weekend in hopes of reviving the stalled labor talks.

Bargaining will resume Saturday after NBPA executive director Billy Hunter called NBA commissioner David Stern and asked if he wanted to "take another stab at it."

“I don’t know that we’re going to accomplish much, but we’re going to meet,” Hunter said. “The only way we can get a deal is by meeting.”

The talks, which collapsed yet again last Friday over the contentious split of basketball-related income (BRI), were reignited after federal mediator George Cohen called Hunter this week. Cohen, who excused himself from the negotiations after they broke down Oct. 20, offered to “resurrect his services,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the union is fine with Cohen rejoining the talks, but was waiting for Stern to give the go-ahead. In any event, the two sides will reconvene Saturday in Manhattan with “no preconditions, none at all,” Hunter said. “I think it’s not wise or prudent for us to … let huge gaps of time go by and let the clock run and not meet. Because then we become more entrenched in our respective positions.”

UPDATE: Those positions became even more crucial, and the stakes were raised higher than ever, when Yahoo Sports reported that as many as 50 players were part of a conference call Thursday with an antitrust attorney to discuss decertification. It was one of two conference calls involving players held this week without the knowledge of NBPA officials, Yahoo reported.

Several All-Stars were included on Thursday’s call, in which participants reportedly drew a line in the sand at 52 percent of BRI for the players. If union negotiators dropped below that percentage, and/or the remaining system issues went the league’s way, it would be cause for a rogue decertification vote by players frustrated with the enormous concessions the union already has made, Yahoo reported.

Unwittingly within that prism of chaos, the NBPA's three-hour strategy meeting, attended by Hunter, union president Derek Fisher and members of the players’ executive committee, took on the distinct tone of a damage-control session once a small group of reporters was led into the room. Hunter said the union executives and players had spent only 15 minutes total this week -- including Thursday’s meeting -- addressing reports of a rift between he and Fisher, but spent more time than that addressing the reports to the media.

Fisher denied having unauthorized discussions with league negotiators in which he reportedly told them he could sell a 50-50 deal to the players, and Hunter denied having a confrontation with Fisher on the matter – as reported last weekend by FOXSports.com. Union vice presidents Keyon Dooling, Maurice Evans and Matt Bonner weighed in with impassioned support of Fisher, whom Dooling called “the best president that we’ve ever had as a union.”

“I think the questions need to start being directed toward Mr. Stern and the owners as to why this gap, if it's so insignificant, hasn’t been closed by them,” Evans said.

And therein lay the real issue – not sideshows or conspiracy theories or questions about whether the president of the union discussed under what circumstances the players would move from their formal position in which they are requesting 52.5 percent of BRI. What negotiations on the remaining system issues can be accomplished to compel either side to move from its economic position?

The owners were formally offering the players a 50-50 split after about $600 million in expense reductions previously calculated under the CBA that expired July 1. But Hunter, explaining for the first time why he walked out of last Friday’s bargaining session, said the league was attempting to use those system issues to “horse trade” from a 47 percent offer to the players up to 50 percent. And Hunter also said he’s heard “rumors” that when the two sides reconvene Saturday, the league may come back with an offer that is less than the previous proposal of 47 percent – which hadn’t officially been the owners’ position since at least Oct. 4.

“Where do I expect them to start?” Hunter said. “I won’t tell you where I expect them to start. … We have an idea of what we need in order to get a fair deal.”

According to multiple sources familiar with both sides’ negotiating strategy, the pivot point for Saturday’s resumption in talks hinges on the remaining system issues that are crucial to getting the players on board with a further compromise on BRI. Primarily, they are the owners’ proposal to forbid luxury tax-paying teams from using exceptions such as the Bird and mid-level and engaging in sign-and-trade deals; the luxury tax “cliff” that magnifies the expense for a team wading into the tax because of the swing that exists between receiving and paying tax money; and an increased tax penalty for repeat offenders, or teams that stay above the tax line for multiple years.

Neither side has said publicly or privately that its existing offer on BRI represents a “best and final” offer. And neither side can present such an offer by moving from 52.5 percent (players’ proposal) and 50 percent (owners’ offer) until the remaining system hurdles are negotiated.

“It’s difficult to peg the number without knowing what comes with it, in terms of the system,” Fisher said. “And it’s extremely difficult to fully negotiate a system without knowing what the split will be. I think that’s why it’s gotten so hard and so dug in here in the last couple weeks.

“I don’t think any of us can begin to speculate on what our group – in particular, this group sitting at the table and our larger body – will be willing to agree to,” Fisher said. “We have a feel for what we need to present a fair deal.”

UPDATE: If put to a vote, the consensus is that a majority of players would accept a 50-50 deal as a lesser of two evils when compared to the losses they would incur from losing the entire season. Amid all the other agendas and damage control flying around Thursday, that's what makes a potential rogue decertification effort by frustrated players so fascinating -- and potentially apocalyptic when it comes to the chances of salvaging a deal, and the season.

To dissolve the union through decertification -- as opposed to a disclaimer of interest, in which the union would voluntarily cease representing the players -- a vote of 30 percent of union membership would be required to start the ball rolling. If that hurdle were cleared, a vote of 50 percent plus one of the membership would be required to make it official.

If decertification were achieved, the players would then sue the NBA for antitrust violations in federal court, a process that would take months to lead to further negotiations -- and potentially years to reach a final conclusion, according to legal sources. The league already has threatened in a federal lawsuit filed in August to void all existing player contracts if the union dissolved.

If the players decertified, they would be legally barred from reforming the union for one year -- unless the owners decided to recognize the union again at some point prior to that in order to achieve a collective bargaining agreement.

In a word, this would be chaos. This is where we are in a lockout that has gotten so messy, so fast that it is impossible to predict what cataclysmic events might unfold next. 

It is possible that the mere threat of decertificaiton, which would all but ensure a lost season of revenues for the owners, could provide a much-needed trigger point to move the negotiations forward Saturday. But it also has the potential to further fracture the union, pitting star players and their high-profile agents against the rank-and-file who are more willing to accept the best deal they can get now to salvage close to a full season of earnings. 

Two sources involved in the process agreed that the most logical solution to break the impasse would be for Stern and Hunter – the highest ranking officials charged with getting a deal – to meet privately and discuss parameters for the obvious tradeoffs that must occur to bridge the BRI gap. But one of the people said this was not a possibility that Hunter and Stern discussed in their telephone call Wednesday, and there is speculation that Stern’s hands are tied by hard-line owners who are preventing him from offering the final tradeoffs necessary to satisfy each side. 

“I don't think the battle is within our union,” Dooling said. “That's not where the rift is.”

But with various players tweeting this week about a desire to accept the best offer the union can get now in order to save the season, Fisher and Hunter are in an extraordinary position: defusing that angst and presenting a unified front while also holding the line on making significant further concessions when every negotiated aspect of the deal to this point has gone heavily in the owners’ favor.

“We want to get to back and play,” Fisher said. “But we realize the ramifications of agreeing to a bad deal at this moment. And we know our fans want us to get back out there. But from our perspective as players, this particular collective bargaining agreement will forever impact the circumstances for NBA basketball players. And we can’t rush into a deal that we feel is a bad deal, just to save this season.”

The meeting Thursday at the union’s Harlem offices offered a window into the tension, frustration and responsibility that rests with Fisher and Hunter to close this deal in a way that satisfies current players who want to return to the court and others who will be affected by it for a decade or longer.

With Hunter being pressured by agents and star players who want him to hold firm at his current proposal of 52.5 percent – down from 57 in the previous deal – and with Stern also feeling Heat from hard-line owners, it is unclear whether the two men who ended the 1998-99 lockout with a private, all-night negotiating session have another season-saving deal in them. Or more important, whether they have the same authority each enjoyed in January of ’99, when they emerged with a handshake agreement on the very morning when Stern had threatened to cancel the rest of the season.

The presence of Cohen or another mediator, which Hunter and the union’s executive committee favors, couldn’t hurt. A league spokesman could not confirm one way or the other Thursday whether Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver would agree to more mediated talks. Some involved in the talks believe Cohen never would’ve let Hunter walk out of the negotiations last Friday, a move that Hunter said Thursday he did not regret.

“I thought it was appropriate,” Hunter said. “I thought that we had given enough. … The signals that I thought I was getting, or that we were getting, were that they would be receptive to moving off their number. And when they went back to 47, then all of a sudden it became clear to me that that wasn’t the case.”

The unspoken truth here is that the notion of a 50-50 compromise on BRI has no sinister connotations for the players if Stern is authorized to make the final system tradeoffs necessary to satisfy what union negotiators feel they need to present what they call a “fair deal” to the membership for a vote. Conversely, if Stern holds firm on the system issues, does he have the authority to increase the players’ share to 51 or 51.5 percent and close the deal?

“Our platform has been reasonableness,” NBPA general counsel Ron Klempner said. “We're looking to come to them and to meet them. And just as people are asking us, ‘Well, the difference is so small, shouldn’t you just cut it and meet them halfway?’ The same thing is on them, and it's just not worth it for them. They really do have to come and meet us halfway.”

For this reason and others, it would be irresponsible to characterize a conversation by Fisher or any other union official about a compromised split of BRI since the number cannot be separated from the system issues that go with it – conversations that Fisher vehemently denied having, even though they would’ve been well within his rights as the union president. Indeed, Hunter acknowledged Thursday that NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler broached the topic of a 50-50 split on Sept. 8 as a way to feel out whether league negotiators were inclined to discuss a split in that “zone.” But to date, the players have not made a formal offer beneath their requested share of 52.5 percent.

“I think the biggest misperception is that it’s only about two percentage points,” committee member Roger Mason said. “Because it’s about much more than 50 or 52 or whatever. There’s still a system that hasn’t been addressed.”

And a whole lot of other stuff, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: November 1, 2011 3:18 pm
 

Mediator? Stern, Hunter need to go 1-on-1

While sources confirmed Tuesday that the NBA and National Basketball Players Association are discussing the possibility of bringing federal mediator George Cohen back into the bargaining process, we already have learned that this is no cure-all for the lockout.

Cohen spent more than 24 hours over two days refereeing the talks last month, only to see them blow up over the contentious issue of the BRI split. The same thing happened without Cohen on Friday, and while sources believe union chief Billy Hunter wouldn't have been permitted to walk away from the table with a line in the sand drawn at a 52-48 split in favor of the players, it's not clear whether Cohen would've been able to elicit enough compromise to keep the talks going.

So while bringing the mediator back into the room couldn't hurt, I have a better idea. To borrow a phrase from commissioner David Stern: mediator, schmediator. Breaking the impasse and securing a handshake on a new CBA so the NBA can reopen for business really only requires two people to be in the room:

1) Stern, and 2) Hunter.

It's time for the two men whose job it is to secure a deal to get in a room together and figure it out. It's time for Stern to tell Hunter how much wiggle room he has on his owners' 50-50 proposal, provided Hunter is willing to compromise on the Big Three system issues that remain. It's time for Hunter to tell Stern exactly what he needs to be able to sell a 50-50 or 51-49 deal to his players.

It's time for Stern and Hunter to throw each other a life raft so they can both paddle ashore holding both fists aloft in the universal gesture of victory. (Although, to do that, they'd need someone else to paddle. So they can bring Cohen in to propel the boat during the victory parade.)

This is how the 1998-99 lockout ended. Stern and Hunter ended it. On the day Stern had set for the rest of the season to be canceled, the two deal-makers pulled an all-nighter, and emerged on the morning of Jan. 7 to shake hands and end the 204-day lockout.

This one has endured a little more than half that time, but there's no need for any more. There are two people who can end this, and each one needs to tell his constituents that he intends to do just that. Stern and Hunter have been negotiating against each other for 15 years. They don't need a mediator, just an empty room.


 
Posted on: October 19, 2011 3:09 am
 

Marathon mediation leads to another meeting

NEW YORK -- After a marathon, 16-hour bargaining session supervised by federal mediator George Cohen, negotiators for the NBA and its players' association left a Manhattan hotel after 2 a.m. ET Wednesday with no comment -- but with another meeting scheduled hours later in an attempt to end the lockout.

The two sides will reconvene at 10 a.m. Cohen requested that both sides refrain from making public comments, and they obliged.

"Nothing has been agreed to," said a person who was briefed on the talks. "There was nothing to say."

Negotiators rehashed the issues they've been wrestling with for more than two years, with the difference being that Cohen, according to a source, "took the emotion out of it." No topics were excluded from the mediation session, including the biggest obstacles in the way of a deal -- the split of revenues and a revised luxury tax system that would replace the hard team salary cap owners long sought in their efforts to achieve parity and competitive balance.

Cohen, a presidential appointee and the top federal mediator in the country, was at least able to do something that the two sides had been unable to do during a recent flurry of negotiations: focus on bridging the gap between them as opposed to concentrating on their own, still widely divergent positions, a source said. 

At one point late into the night, it was decided that the two sides needed to come back later Wednesday -- a session that is expected to decide whether the change of format and removal of emotion will yield movement in each side's position. A person with knowledge of the talks described Tuesday's session as laying the "building blocks" for Wednesday. 

Both sides clearly realized it was time to make a deal, but neither was ready to do it in this -- by far the longest -- bargaining session of the 3 1-2 month lockout.

A meeting of the owners' labor relations committee previously scheduled for Wednesday morning will be replaced by that committee's bargaining session with the players, again under Cohen's supervision. The owners' full Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Wednesday night, and Thursday, the planning committee is scheduled to present to the full board its revenue sharing plan -- a key cog in the logjammed talks.

In addition to the lead negotiators and lawyers for both sides, the mediation session featured the owners' full, 12-member labor relations committee (plus Lakers owner Jerry Buss) and eight members of the players' executive committee (minus Keyon Dooling, who did not attend.)

The meeting began at 10 a.m. Tuesday and finally broke up at 2 a.m. Wednesday, when both sides decided to return to the bargaining table eight hours later.



Posted on: October 19, 2011 3:02 am
 

Marathon mediation leads to another meeting

NEW YORK -- After a marathon, 16-hour bargaining session supervised by federal mediator George Cohen, negotiators for the NBA and its players' association left a Manhattan hotel after 2 a.m. ET Wednesday with no comment -- but with another meeting scheduled hours later in an attempt to end the lockout.

The two sides will reconvene at 10 a.m. Cohen requested that both sides refrain from making public comments, and both sides obliged.

"Nothing has been agreed to," said a person who was briefed on the talks. "There was nothing to say."

Negotiators rehashed the issues they've been wrestling with for more than two years, with the difference being that Cohen, according to a source, "took the emotion out of it." No topics were excluded from the mediation session, including the biggest obstacles in the way of a deal -- the split of revenues and a revised luxury tax system that would replace the hard team salary cap owners long sought in their efforts to achieve parity and competitive balance.

Cohen, a presidential appointee and the top federal mediator in the country, was at least able to do something that the two sides had been unable to do during a recent flurry of negotiations: focus on bridging the gap between them as opposed to concentrating on their own, still widely divergent positions, a source said. 

At one point late into the night, it was decided that the two sides needed to come back later Wednesday -- a session that is expected to decide whether the change of format and removal of emotion will yield movement in each side's position. 

Both sides clearly realized it was time to make a deal, but neither was ready to do it in this -- by far the longest -- bargaining session of the 3 1-2 month lockout.

A meeting of the owners' labor relations committee previously scheduled for Wednesday morning will be replaced by that committee's bargaining session with the players, again under Cohen's supervision. The owners' full Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Wednesday night, and Thursday, the planning committee is scheduled to present to the full board its revenue sharing plan -- a key cog in the logjammed talks.

The meeting began at 10 a.m. Tuesday and finally broke up at 2 a.m. Wednesday, when both sides decided to return to the bargaining table eight hours later.



 
Posted on: October 17, 2011 9:09 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 9:50 pm
 

NBA, union meet with federal mediator

NEW YORK -- Federal mediator George Cohen met separately with executives and legal staff from both the NBA and its players' association Monday, a prelude to a crucial bargaining session he will oversee with time running out to avoid losing a subtantial portion of the season to the lockout.

Cohen, director of the federal mediation and conciliation service, and deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh met with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and legal staff for about 2 1-2 hours at the union's headquarters in Harlem. Sources also confirmed that league executives and lawyers met with the mediators at NBA headquarters.

The separate meetings set the stage for a bargaining session Tuesday in Manhattan under the supervision of Cohen, a respected presidental appointee and the top federal mediator in the country. During appearances on various media outlets late last week, commissioner David Stern said if the two sides weren't close to a deal by the time his owners convened in New York for meetings Wednesday and Thursday, his "gut" feeling was that games eventually would be canceled through Christmas.

 "I really think David wants to go present his owners with something on Wednesday," a person familiar with the process told CBSSports.com.

On Wednesday, the league's planning committee -- headed by Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck -- is expected to present a revenue sharing plan to the full Board of Governors. The labor relations committee, headed by Spurs owner Peter Holt, will report on the progress -- or lack thereof -- on negotiations with the players. The issues of revenue sharing and collective bargaining have always gone hand-in-hand, and they will be inexorably linked this week in New York.

If there is no collective bargaining agreement soon, there will be no revenue to share.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 5:49 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 11:18 pm
 

Stern: Deal or despair by Tuesday


NEW YORK -- Setting another arbitrary deadline for more lost games, NBA commissioner David Stern said that without an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by Tuesday, he fears there will be no games on Christmas Day.

"It's time to make the deal," Stern said, speaking deliberately and threateningly Wednesday in an interview on New York's WFAN radio. "If we don't make it on Tuesday, my gut -- this is not in my official capacity of canceling games -- but my gut is that we won't be playing on Christmas Day."

Tuesday is the day the league and players' association will meet with federal mediator George Cohen in an attempt to resolve their differences before more games are canceled.

"Deal Tuesday, or we potentially spiral into situations where the worsening offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties to make a deal," Stern said.

Stern confirmed that negotiating committees for the league and National Basketball Players Association will meet separately with Cohen on Monday and then will convene for a bargaining session under Cohen's supervision Tuesday. Why the deadline? Stern's Board of Governors is scheduled to meet in New York Wednesday and Thursday -- first for the planning committee to present its revenue sharing plan and then for a full board meeting.

Asked when more games could be imperiled after he canceled the first two weeks on Monday, Stern said, "I don't have a date here sitting at my desk. But if we don't have a deal by the time the owners are in, then what's the purpose of us sitting around staring at each other on the same issues?"

Sources familiar with the mediation process told CBSSports.com that Cohen at first wanted to hold bargaining sessions at his Washington, D.C., office beginning Tuesday and continuing for the rest of the week. With owners headed to New York for the board meetings Wednesday and Thursday, that wasn't possible.

"We have owners meetings Wednesday and Thursday," Stern said later in another interview on NBA TV. "Each side’s going to meet with the mediator on Monday, and if there’s a breakthrough, it’s going to come on Tuesday. If not, I think that the season, you know, is really going to potentially escape from us because we aren’t making any progress."

Pressed by interviewer David Aldridge, Stern said, "How many times does it pay to keep meeting, and have the same things thrown back at you? We’re ready to sit down and make a deal, and I don’t think the union is. But hopefully on Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they’ll be ready to make a deal. And certainly, I’ll bring my owners ready to make a deal. Unlike Billy Hunter, you’ve never heard me say something is a 'blood issue.'"

Hunter, who appeared Wednesday on WFAN -- the nation's largest sports talk station -- was traveling Thursday to Los Angeles, where he will meet with players Friday to update them on the bargaining status.

In a work stoppage known more for catch phrases and YouTube moments than compromise, this will go down as Stern's "Grinch" moment. Placing that much importance on the first sit-down bargaining session with a mediator who has no binding authority felt like a negotiating tactic more than a realistic deadline or threat.

But in responding to assertions made a day earlier on WFAN by union chief Billy Hunter, Stern did by far his most effective, convincing job yet of laying out the owners' vision for a new system that would shrink payroll disparity and enhance competitive balance in a new CBA.

In meticulous, lawyerly fashion, Stern skewered the union's bargaining stance on the key system issues standing in the way of a deal -- the type of cap system and contract length. He also took Hunter to task for his characterization of a 50-50 split of revenues that had been discussed in informal side meetings during a key bargaining session on Oct. 4 -- calling it an idea first broached by the players and saying Hunter's characterization of it "caused my head almost to explode."

"The first time 50 percent was uttered was several weeks earlier, by the players' negotiator (Jeffrey Kessler), who said it's not an offer, it's a concept," Stern said. "He said it's a concept if everything else stays the same. And we said, 'No, no, no, no.'"

Stern said when each side was in its respective room during the Oct. 4 session, there was a knock on the door. 

"It was Derek Fisher, the president of the union, and Jeff Kessler, the lead negotiator, who probably does 70 percent of the talking for the union," Stern said. "And they asked us to come out into the hall, where I went with Peter Holt, the head of the labor relations committee, and Adam Silver, who's really our lead negotiator.

"Without trying to pin it on anybody in particular, all the parties to that conversation agreed that we would go back to our respective rooms and each promised to try to sell a 50-50 split," Stern said. "We were in the process of selling it, and there was a knock on our door. Kessler and Derek Fisher asked us to come into a room where they were with three other players -- not Billy -- and they said, 'We can't do it. We can't sell it.' And we said, OK, we get it.' Now it strikes me as strange that the union and the chief negotiator are being left out there because Billy wasn't in the room? I'm sorry."

Union sources have given a different account of the side discussions, saying the league at one point offered to try to sell a band of 49-51 percent for the players, while the players countered with a band of 51-53 percent.

"It was actually a union-initiated proposal, and it didn't fly, OK?" Stern said. "But Billy's ... you may have to have both of us in tomorrow with lie detectors."

In any event, Stern now considers the two sides to be six percentage points apart on the split of BRI, with the players asking for 53 percent -- a $1 billion concession over six years from their previous guarantee of 57 percent -- and the owners offering 47 percent. Stern made it clear that he believes the economic deal to be made is 50-50.

"When one side is at 53 and the other side is at 47, you have an idea of where this is going, OK?" Stern said.

While Stern's motivation to put another threat of canceled games out there was clear -- negotiating leverage -- it's unclear why he waited this long to give a thorough, persuasive summary of the system changes owners are seeking. 

"If you live in a market where you have a perception as a fan that it's only open to the rich teams to have the best players, then you're starting out in a bad place," Stern said.

On negotiations over the type of cap system, Stern said, "We proposed to the players that every team have the same amount available (to spend). That's what the NFL has. And the union said, 'No way. That's a blood issue.' So we said, 'All right, all right, you know, good ol' softees that the owners are, how about the flex cap like NHL has, where you agree upon a band between $52 million and $68 million -- because you can compress the difference? And they said, 'Blood issue. That's still a hard cap at the high end. Why don't you propose a punitive tax?' We said, 'OK, we'll propose a punitive tax.' And we did."

Stern described in detail how the owners' latest luxury tax proposal would work: It would tax teams $1.75 for every dollar of the first $5 million over the tax threshold, with 50 cents added for each additional $5 million. So a team spending $20 million over the tax would be charged $65 million, compared to the $20 million it cost under the dollar-for-dollar tax system in the previous CBA. The players on Monday rejected the owners' luxury tax plan because it was so punitive, it would effectively serve as a hard salary cap.

The league also wanted to impose even stiffer penalties for teams that failed to come out of the luxury tax after a period of time -- repeat offenders, so to speak. 

"We really have been reaching for the union here," Stern said. "... If anyone thinks we wanted to miss a single game, they are wrong."

UPDATE: In the NBA TV interview, Stern asserted that near the end of Monday's bargaining session, the union's tax proposal worsened from a $12.5 million tax on $10 million to $11 million.

"It was clear that they weren't ready to make a deal," Stern said. "And we didn’t know what else to do."

Stern didn't mention the aspect of the league's proposal that would forbid tax-paying teams from using the Bird exception to retain their own free agents, but did reveal that the league proposed a so-called "Super Bird" exception whereby teams could re-sign one designated free agent for a maximum of five years. Other contract lengths would be capped at four and three years under the league's proposal. Previously contracts could be no longer than six years for free agents who stayed with their teams and five years for those who left. The union has offered to cap contract lengths at five and four years, respectively.

"I was a participant in developing the Bird exception in 1983, so it doesn't break my heart to see it continued," Stern said. "But frankly, our owners went into this thinking that it was better to eliminate it so that teams could only keep certain players and the rest would be available to other teams."
 
Stern's spin on the league dropping its insistence on eliminating guaranteed contracts and rolling back existing ones was that, "We were anxious to save the season and make a deal." While the provision forbidding tax-payers from retaining Bird free agents would result in many of those players leaving their teams -- which is exactly what the exception was created to prevent -- he said the Super Bird provision would be "better for the players."

"The very good players will keep getting raises and new contracts, and the others, the money that becomes available by the expiration of the four- and three-year contracts will be available to the performers," Stern said. "That's what we call pay-for-performance. The union is not in accord with our view. They want longer contracts."

The luxury tax penalties and contract lengths will be the two most divisive issues when the parties meet with the federal mediator next week, Stern said.

"We really want the union and us to explain ourselves to a federal mediator," Stern said. "It may be that in the act of explaining, we will get a better reality check -- maybe of our proposals and our willingness, I accept that -- and maybe of the union's. We'll just see how that works out. So that's why, in some measure, both sides embrace the arbitrator."



Posted on: October 12, 2011 6:24 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 8:54 pm
 

NBA talks headed to federal mediator

The NBA labor talks are headed for government intervention after the canceling of games drew the attention of the nation's top federal mediator.

George Cohen, director of the federal mediation and conciliation service, will oversee further negotiations between the NBA and its players' association on a new collective bargaining agreement, the agency said in a news release Wednesday. The sessions will begin Tuesday in New York.

"For a number of months, I have participated in separate, informal, off-the-record discussions with the principals representing the NBA and the NBPA concerning the status of their collective bargaining negotiations," Cohen said in the statement. "It is evident that the ongoing dispute will result in a serious impact, not only upon the parties directly involved, but also, of major concern, on interstate commerce—i.e., the employers and working men and women who provide services related to the basketball games, and, more generally, on the economy of every city in which those games are scheduled to be played.

"In these circumstances, the agency has invited, and the parties have agreed, to convene further negotiations under my auspices," Cohen said.

Billy Hunter, the NBPA's executive director, divulged in a radio interview with WFAN in New York earlier Wednesday that the two sides had agreed to have their failed negotiations federally mediated.

Cohen, appointed by President Obama, was called upon to mediate the NFL's labor negotiation with the NFL Players Association before that sport's recent lockout was imposed. He has no binding authority and can only make suggestions. If nothing else, a fresh set of eyes and opinions -- not to mention meetings with a different venue and format -- couldn't hurt.

Cohen has argued five landmark labor cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and last year helped avert a crisis in Major League Soccer's labor talks. He is a former appellate court attorney with the National Labor Relations Board, and in fact argued before then-U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor on the day she issued an injunction that effectively ended the Major League Baseball strike in 1995. Cohen was the MLBPA's lead attorney in the case, and also has worked with the NBPA.

In a Los Angeles Times article from March, football agent Leigh Steinberg said a good mediator is "an expert in the psychology of human gridlock." To that extent, Cohen has joined the right fight, as the NBA and NBPA are hopelessly, needlessly gridlocked over issues that should have been easily solved once they approached a compromise on how to divide the sport's $4 billion of revenues. The league's bargaining talks broke off Monday night after 13 hours over two days and multiple sessions over a two-week period. The league on Monday canceled the first two weeks of the regular season.

Drawn by the fact that lost games will have an economic impact beyond the parties involved, Cohen's office called both parties this week to request that they voluntarily participate in mediation, two sources said. Both agreed.

For those wondering why the step wasn't taken sooner, federal mediators generally don't get involved in labor disputes unless asked, or unless they reach an impasse after the sides had ample time to bargain. The NFL requested Cohen's involvement before the lockout was imposed, and while it's unclear what impact he had on the ultimate resolution, his powers at the time were muted by the lack of urgency in the talks.





 
 
 
 
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