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NFL labor talks resume

By Mark Maske

44
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19
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Updated 4:46 p.m.: One player, Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Chester Pitts, said as he left the meeting shortly after 4 p.m. he was "cautiously optimistic" a settlement could be reached and talks are scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.

"It's two groups doing business," Pitts said. "The tone, none of that matters.... The fans should know that both parties are hammering away at it and really trying to get a deal done."

Negotiators for the league and the players' union filed into the downtown D.C. offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service around 1 p.m. The bargaining session is taking place under the supervision of federal mediator George H. Cohen.

Updated: 1:10 p.m.: The NFL's labor negotiations resumed Tuesday in Washington.

Original post: Talks ended temporarily last week with Cohen announcing that some progress had been made in a series of meetings over seven straight days, but significant differences remained between the two sides on the core issues of the dispute.

The negotiations resumed Tuesday with the deadline for a new deal looming. The current labor agreement between the franchise owners and the NFL Players Association expires Friday. Players and union officials have said they expect players to be locked out by the owners at that point if the parties are unable to agree to a new deal first.

The two sides could agree to postpone Thursday's 11:59 p.m. bargaining deadline if there's progress toward a settlement.

New York Giants co-owner John Mara was part of the league's bargaining contingent. No owners had participated in the mediated negotiations previously. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and attorneys Jeff Pash and Bob Batterman also were accompanied by Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen and Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay.

"We all know what the calendar is and we all know what's at stake for everybody," Pash, the league's lead negotiator, said before the meeting. "That's why we're here."

DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director, and a group of union attorneys and players entered the building soon after the owners' contingent.

The owners are scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday at a hotel near Dulles Airport and, barring a settlement or a postponement of the bargaining deadline, could face a final decision about a lockout at that point. The NFL hasn't had a work stoppage since strikes by the players in 1987 and '82.

Sources continued to say the players' side intends to decertify the union this week, perhaps Thursday. That would, in effect, put the union out of business as a bargaining agent for the players and would give players the right to file antitrust litigation against the owners. The players, if they took that move, could then seek an injunction in court to block or lift any lockout and that, potentially, would keep the sport in operation while the dispute plays out in court. That approach has been successful in the past for the players. The sport's longstanding system of free agency and a salary cap was established in the early 1990s as part of a settlement of antitrust litigation by the players' side.

There were reports over the weekend that the players would decertify the union this week, prior to the expiration of the current labor deal, if there's no settlement or postponement of the bargaining deadline. But sources also said at the time that the decertification decision by the players' side could be subject to a potential late shift in strategy.

The owners still could lock out the players Friday even if the union is decertified prior to the expiration of the current labor deal. Some legal experts have said that could be risky for the owners because under those circumstances the lockout could be cited in any antitrust litigation by the players, with damages at stake. But other experts say they wouldn't consider it a particularly risky tactic by the owners and it technically wouldn't be a lockout under those circumstances, but the owners choosing to shut down their business.

The league already has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board that that might complicate any attempt by the players to decertify the union. The league's charge accused the players' side of preferring decertification and antitrust litigation to a negotiated settlement. The NLRB is investigating the charge and a resolution probably is not imminent.

There could be some incentive, based on a clause in the current labor deal, for the players' side to wait a while to decertify the union. That clause says that if the players don't decertify the union until after the expiration of the current labor agreement, the owners could not claim that the decertification was "a sham" as a legal defense in an antitrust suit. So the players' chances of prevailing in antitrust litigation might be bolstered if they wait until after the expiration of the current labor deal.

Under that scenario, the owners could lock out the players Friday, barring a settlement this week or a postponement of the bargaining deadline. The players, under that scenario, would decertify the union later and seek an injunction in court to lift the lockout, and the two sides would await a ruling by the NLRB on the league's charge against the union.

There already is a case before a federal judge in Minneapolis, based on an appeal by the union, that challenges the structure of the league's national television contracts. The players contend the TV money would provide the owners with a $4 billion lockout fund in the event of a work stoppage. The union, in a separate case before the NFL's special master, has accused teams of improperly colluding last offseason to restrict players' salaries.

The central issue of the labor dispute, it appears, is that the two sides differ greatly on how much of the sport's approximately $9 billion in annual revenues should go to the players under a salary cap system. The league also has proposed extending the regular season to 18 games per team, implementing a rookie wage scale and having players blood-tested for human growth hormone.

After negotiations broke off Thursday, Cohen announced that he'd asked both sides to reassess their bargaining positions on the core issues of the dispute before the talks resumed.

By Mark Maske  |  March 1, 2011; 8:53 AM ET  | Category:  League , Union Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Owners' bargaining committee met Friday | Next: NFL players will seek to block lockout in court, sources say

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The owners are pissed right now because that $4bill in TV contracts will go to escrow instead of their already fat wallets... I hope they can still get this done with the 18 game season and a rookie wage scale.

Posted by: ozpunk | March 2, 2011 3:47 PM

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