Union says it wants a deal, not a lockout
By Mark Maske
Players and union officials said Thursday they are not seeking a labor confrontation with the sport's franchise owners and want to do everything possible to reach a settlement and avoid a lockout in March.
"Every player wants to play," Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday said in a conference call with reporters. "Anything we would do would be in reaction to what the owners do.... We are literally waiting on the owners."
The union conducted its conference call one day after the NFL's outside labor attorney, Bob Batterman, said the leadership of the NFL Players Association wants the players to be locked out so that it can put to use its labor strategy of litigation and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Batterman's claim was strongly denied by the union Thursday.
"Any suggestion we want a lockout is coming from outer space," Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, said during the conference call.
Said Kevin Mawae, the retired NFL center who is the union's president: "We want to be on the field. We don't want a lockout. We didn't ask for this. We didn't opt out" of the labor deal.
The current labor agreement between the owners and players expires in March. The owners voted in 2008 to exercise a reopener clause and end the deal two years early.
Berthelsen said Thursday the union continues to believe that the owners will lock out the players after the agreement expires.
Batterman said Wednesday the league proposed nine possible bargaining dates to the union in December and the union took advantage of only one. Berthelsen said Thursday he was not aware of the union rejecting any proposed negotiating sessions.
Mawae said the last formal bargaining session between the two sides occurred around Thanksgiving. Berthelsen said informal discussions have continued but declined to say if any progress had been made.
The players potentially could decertify the union, a move that could keep them from being locked out and give them the ability to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, said Thursday the players have authorized the decertification of the union if necessary.
"We hope it doesn't get to that point," Atallah said. "Everything has been geared toward getting a deal done at the table."