SBJ/January 27 - February 2, 2003/Labor Agents

Experts: WNBA playing hardball by telling union to try again on CBA proposal

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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Upper Deck and Topps currently have deals with Yao for rookie cards. Upper Deck officials would not comment, nor would Yao's marketing agent, Bill Duffy.

  BYRD SIGNS DEALS: PGA Tour 2002 rookie of the year Jonathan Byrd has signed long-term deals with Polo for apparel and Ben Hogan for clubs, said his agent, Thomas Parker of Octagon. Parker would not reveal the length or financial details of the deals. Under the terms of the deals, Byrd will wear the Ben Hogan logo on his bag and cap and will wear the Polo logo on his shirt. Octagon agents Parker and Mac Barnhardt negotiated the deals for Byrd.

  CINDRICH SIGNS LONG: Veteran football agent Ralph Cindrich has signed Washington State defensive tackle and Outland Trophy winner Rien Long for representation in the 2003 NFL draft. The Football Writers Association of America presents the trophy each year to the best interior lineman in college football.

  ROSENHAUS SIGNS HURRICANES: NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus has signed three University of Miami Hurricanes for representation in the NFL draft, including highly rated defensive end Jerome McDougle. Rosenhaus also signed Miami center Brett Romberg, a runner-up for the Outland Trophy, and defensive end Andrew Williams.

  SFX SIGNS FAINE: SFX Football agents Ben Dogra and Jim Steiner signed highly rated Notre Dame center Jeff Faine for representation in the NFL draft.

Contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent news, tips and anecdotes at

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