NEW YORK -- Union chief Billy Hunter said Tuesday he's "cool" with Paul Pierce leading a decertification movement within the National Basketball Players Association and is "not at all opposed" to the Celtics star taking the lead.
"I think Paul is kind of frustrated with the process," Hunter said after a news conference in which the players said they were rejecting the league's latest take-it-or-leave-it proposal. "Paul has been at the bargaining table and he doesn’t feel that we’ve been making any kind of progress. And so he thought that maybe that’s necessary. We don’t have a lot of options and that’s the option Paul was pushing – still is pushing."
Asked in a small group of reporters if he's cool with that, Hunter said, "Of course. Listen, I’m cool with Paul and all these guys. I think it’s very important. I’m happy that Paul and the others are involved in the process. That’s always been the problem with athletes, that a lot of stuff is foisted on them and they have no input. Paul has been actively engaged, he understands, he’s been in five or six of our negotiating sessions, he talks to me, and when they had the (decertification) calls, he called and let me know that they were having the calls. And I said, 'Hey, I'm not at all opposed to you doing that.' ... I endorse what Paul did."
Hunter later said in an interview on NBA TV that Pierce informed him Tuesday that about 200 players have committed to signing a petition seeking a decertification election if a deal is not consummated before commissioner David Stern's 5 p.m. ET Wednesday deadline to accept the owners' latest proposal -- which includes the same 50-50 split of revenues the union is now prepared to accept.
With owners almost certainly following through on their threat to forward a worse proposal to the players if they didn't accept the one on the table, the talks could be thrust into chaos even if Hunter is successful in securing another bargaining session Wednesday. Once the decertification petition is filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the players seeking to dissolve the union would have to wait 45-60 days for the agency to hold an election -- a period during which negotiations with the NBPA could continue.
But given how long Hunter has been waiting for the NLRB to act on the union's unfair labor practices charge, filed in May and amended in July, it's anyone's guess as to whether a decertification threat could be carried out and reach a conclusion in time to save the season. In general, the NLRB does not authorize decertification petitions and or schedule elections while a union has an unfair labor practices charge pending.
"It’s like waiting for the fairy godmother," Hunter said, chiding the NLRB for failing to act on the union's charge, for which a complaint against the NBA could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout. The NBA subsequently filed am NLRB charge of failing to bargain in good faith against the union, and there's been no action on that one, either.
"I'm hoping that they will get some expedition, particularly if they’re reading in the papers all the things that are happening," Hunter said. "It’s getting hectic on both sides of the table. It’s a federal agency beaurocracy and maybe they think it’s too hot a potato, they don’t want to touch it."
Or just as likely, the NLRB has been hoping the two parties can reach a new collective bargaining agreement on their own without the agency's intervention. If rational minds prevail, that's still possible -- given that the league and union have finally closed what was once a multi-billion-dollar economic gap and have only a handful of system issues, some fairly minor, standing in the way of a deal.