SBJ/February 21-27, 2010/Labor and Agents

Jets prepared to begin furloughs

The New York Jets will begin furloughing employees next week if the NFL and NFL Players Association do not reach a new collective-bargaining agreement, according to the team’s executive vice president of business operations, Matt Higgins. Employees will be told they must take a one-week, unpaid absence every month until a new CBA is signed.

NFL teams have been reluctant to talk publicly about their contingency plans in the event a CBA is not achieved and players are locked out, fearing public barbs from the NFLPA that such plans constitute evidence the league is planning for a labor disturbance. Higgins, though, spoke openly of the Jets’ plans, which have been in place now for a few months. The team will furlough every business operations employee, including Higgins. The team’s football operations unit will act to cut 25 percent from its budget, Higgins said, though it’s more complicated for that group to furlough because it needs full staffing before the April draft.

The Jets have roughly 158 employees, 96 on the business side and the remainder on the football side. A benefit of furloughing, Higgins added, is that the employees can file for unemployment benefits while keeping their jobs.

If no games are lost to a work stoppage, Higgins said, Jets owner Woody Johnson is committed to reimbursing the employees for their lost income. “Our plan is predicated on shared sacrifice,” Higgins said. “Our goal is to emerge with the staff intact, and this is the way to do that.”

Teams have to worry about more than just trying to save costs now. They also need to be prepared to hit the ground running when a new labor deal is signed, so furloughing may become a more appealing option.

The league in the last several months polled teams on their plans, team sources said, asking them to check off on a questionnaire if they planned furloughs, layoffs, salary reductions or other moves in the event of a lockout. Teams contacted by SportsBusiness Journal have talked about all of these options as possibilities, though some are waiting until after the draft in late April to execute the plans.

The CBA expires at the end of the day March 3, and there seemed to be little hope as of the middle of last week of a deal being reached before the deadline.

The Jets recently let go 30 sales staff members, but that cut was tied to the completion of the team’s first year in New Meadowlands Stadium, Higgins said. Had the Jets made the Super Bowl, Higgins added, the team had planned on bringing those employees to the Super Bowl as a parting gift.

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