SBJ/May 30 - June 6, 2011/Labor and Agents

Hunter to meet with mediator Cohen

National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter has agreed to meet with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen, who tried to mediate the NFL labor dispute in the weeks leading up to the NFL lockout.

NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The NBPA’s Billy Hunter will meet with George Cohen, who tried to mediate the NFL labor dispute.
“I have agreed to meet with George Cohen, to kind of brief him on our situation,” said Hunter in an interview with SportsBusiness Journal at the Sports Lawyers Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Hunter said he had not made any decision on whether NBA players as a group would agree to enter mediation but said he had agreed to meet Cohen after Cohen reached out to him.

“He contacted [NBA Commissioner] David Stern and he contacted me,” Hunter said, adding that Cohen contacted him about three weeks ago and that it was his understanding that Cohen contacted Stern before contacting him.
NBA officials declined to comment.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was created to promote labor-management peace in the private and public sectors. It routinely contacts employers and unions a month or so before collective-bargaining agreements expire. The decision of employers and unions to participate in federal mediation is voluntary.

The NBA collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30.

Cohen has a long history in sports labor, going back decades before he was appointed to his current position by President Obama in 2009. In fact, while working as a lawyer at private law firm Bredhoff & Kaiser, Cohen worked for the NBPA and Hunter’s predecessor, Simon Gourdine.

Hunter sat down with SportsBusiness Journal on May 20, four days before the NBPA filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NBA. The union, in that charge, alleges among other things that the league was dealing directly with players and bypassing the union, as well as failing and refusing to provide relevant financial information requested by the union to understand its financial demands.

Hunter, at the time of the interview, said there was no movement in the talks toward a new CBA.

NBA owners recently issued a new proposal to the players in which they proposed that the hard salary cap they are seeking would be phased in. Under the proposal, player compensation would be rolled back 8 percent in the first year of the deal and 5 percent the second year. Then, according to union officials, the originally proposed rollback of 30 percent to 40 percent would be put in place.

An NBPA memo dated April 26 noted that the league has proposed a $45 million hard cap, which cuts the current $58 million soft cap by nearly 25 percent (SportsBusiness Journal, May 16-22 issue).

The owners also have asked to increase the length of the CBA term.

“They added two years onto their counter,” Hunter said, referencing the league’s latest offer. “It’s a phase-in. What they did, instead of asking for eight years as they did in their original, they are asking for 10. They perceive it as a major concession on their part. I perceive it as the same old, same old.”

Hunter said the NBPA will continue to meet with the NBA and that the union was discussing “concepts” with league negotiators in small-group meetings. He would not elaborate on what those concepts are, but Hunter did say he had not lost hope about reaching a settlement.

“It’s my nature,” Hunter said. “I’m not going to write it off — the possibility of reaching an agreement.”

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