NFL attorney: Players' union wants a lockout
By Mark Maske
UPDATED (8:26 p.m.)...
The NFL's outside labor attorney said Wednesday he believes the leaders of the NFL Players Association want team owners to lock out players when the sport's labor contract expires in March.
Bob Batterman, a New York-based lawyer for the league, said he thinks the union's leadership is focused on litigation strategies and lobbying on Capitol Hill rather than attempting to negotiate a labor settlement with the owners.
"If you want to litigate, if you want to get Congress involved, you want a lockout to occur and you want the clock to run out [on negotiations] so your decertification and litigation strategy can come into play," Batterman said in a telephone interview.
"This is not a union eager to avoid a lockout. This is a union waiting for a lockout to occur."
The current labor deal expires in March. Players and union leaders have said they expect owners to lock out players after the deal expires. They have accused the owners of planning a lockout for several years while also seeking unfair concessions from the players at the bargaining table.
Owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have said the league wants to reach a settlement with the players that solves what they call the sport's financial problems. The owners voted in 2008 to exercise a reopener clause and end the current labor deal, completed in 2006, two years early.
George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, was dismissive of Batterman's remarks, saying they "come from the person that effectuated a year-long lockout for the NHL. These comments are irrelevant to the process. The owners will either let the players play or give us a good reason why they can't."
Batterman was an outside labor attorney for the NHL during its lockout of 2004 and 2005 that led to the cancellation of the entire season.
Atallah also renewed the union's call for more financial information from the owners.
"Batterman is a partner at a firm that represents the NBA in their collective bargaining negotiations," Atallah said. "If audited financials are good enough for basketball, why are they none of the NFL players' business?"
Batterman declined to say Wednesday whether owners will initiate a lockout in March, barring significant progress in bargaining by then.
"I don't think I want to get into disclosing what we will do," Batterman said. "Our options are to lock out or not lock out. A lockout does not have to begin on the first day after expiration."
The players could attempt to avoid a lockout by decertifying the union, a maneuver that could expose owners to an antitrust lawsuit by the players. Experts have said the owners would be unlikely to lock out players if the union is decertified.
A settlement by early March remains possible, Batterman said, if both sides are intent upon reaching a deal.
"There is time if there were two things--a serious partner who wanted to get a deal done by March 3, and I have serious doubts about that, and if we spent serious time getting it done," Batterman said. "It's do-able if there were a desire to reach a serious compromise. Without that, it doesn't matter if there's 50 days or 500 days."
Batterman also said: "The fact that we're 50 days or whatever from expiration is almost irrelevant. I don't think there's a desire on the union's part to use those days constructively."
Batterman said he believes that the union's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, has been focused on taking such an approach to the labor dispute since he was elected in March 2009.
Smith "ran on a program not that he was going to negotiate hard and come up with the best deal possible," Batterman said. "He was going to bring politics into this. He was going to lobby in Congress. He was going to litigate. He was going to involve the AFL-CIO. He was going to prevent the league from locking out through those means."
Batterman said that "the only side that has been talking about a lockout is the union. Roger Goodell could not be more clear that he wants a deal."
Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, said in a written statement that Smith "does not want a lockout, and he has proved that by offering to extend the current [collective bargaining agreement] to avoid one. Batterman, on the other hand, has been advocating a lockout since the first day he became involved. I have been involved since the '70s, and I can tell you that the word lockout wasn't even in the NFL's vocabulary until he came around."
Batterman said he fears the players are taking an approach that a lockout in March merely would give the two sides another six months to work out a settlement before the 2011 season is scheduled to begin in the fall.
"That overlooks the extraordinary amount of damage that will do to both parties," Batterman said.
Batterman took issue with a comment by Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, who told reporters last weekend that the outcome of the negotiations is solely in the owners' hands.
"The fact of the matter is, a strike is not solely on the shoulders of a union and a lockout, if it happens, is not solely on the shoulders of management," Batterman said. "Either one is a function of the fact that the parties haven't reached an agreement."
Batterman said the league offered nine possible negotiating dates to the union in December, and the union took advantage of only one. No bargaining session is currently scheduled, Batterman said.
Players and the union have blamed the lack of negotiating on the league and the owners, contending that the owners continue to ready for a lockout.
"I think they're okay with letting this thing run for a while and trying to squeeze us into accepting a deal that's not fair," Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said in a conference call with reporters this week.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said during that conference call: "I hope it will be perceived for what it is: a lockout. We're locked out. We'll be standing at the front door trying to work."
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