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SBJ/January 27 - February 2, 2003/Labor Agents
Experts: WNBA playing hardball by telling union to try again on CBA proposal
Published January 27, 2003
WNBA officials have engaged in an uncommon labor tactic by thumbing their noses at the WNBA players union's first proposal for a new contract and telling the union to submit another proposal, labor law experts say.
The Women's National Basketball Players Association revealed earlier this month that it made what it said was a comprehensive proposal, but the league rejected it and failed to make a counterproposal. Union officials, in a conference call with reporters Jan. 17, said the league sent a letter stating it was "disappointed" with the players' first proposal.
"They didn't say what they didn't like," WNBPA director Pamela Wheeler said. "They just said they didn't like it."
WNBA spokeswoman Traci Cook declined to discuss the labor talks but added that the league was scheduled to meet with the union last week to discuss collective-bargaining issues. Union officials, however, said that meeting was to discuss a dispersal draft and other issues relating to the league's elimination of teams and not a new labor contract.
That meeting was scheduled after the deadline for this column.
Bill Gould, a Stanford Law School professor and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, said such a negotiation tactic is not unheard of but is quite unusual, especially in high-profile labor contract talks.
"That is a fairly hardball position," Gould said. "They are trying to bludgeon, to intimidate the union."
The WNBA's first labor agreement expired Sept. 15. Before the union's press conference, both sides had said they hoped to have a new collective-bargaining agreement in place prior to the start of the season in late May.
Charles Cohen, a labor lawyer who represents companies in collective bargaining for law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, agreed that the action of the league was unusual, but he said the real deadline is when the season starts. "The parties are just apart and negotiating without the pressure of an event, and no event is really pending until May," he said. "Why give a good offer now?"
Union officials told reporters that they do not intend to submit another proposal to the league. Wheeler indicated that the union was looking at options, but did not reveal them.
Gould said that if the union did submit another offer, with some changes, and the league still refused to make a counteroffer, the union might be able to bring an action before the National Labor Relations Board.
"The mere failure to make a counterproposal is not a violation of labor law," Gould said. "But ... if the union now backs up and makes a new proposal and the owners don't come forward with anything, then the [National Labor Relations] Board could find bad-faith bargaining looking at the total pattern of conduct."
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Contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent news, tips and anecdotes at firstname.lastname@example.org.