SBJ/Sept. 2-8, 2013/Labor and Agents

No WNBA talks slated ahead of CBA expiration

The WNBA collective-bargaining agreement expires at the end of this month, but as of last week the players and the league had no bargaining sessions scheduled to negotiate a new deal.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the WNBA have held one meeting, at the WNBA All-Star Weekend in July, about a new agreement. The labor deal expires Sept. 30.

“I can’t speak for them but I know we are always ready to meet and they have always been amenable to meeting,” said Pam Wheeler, director of operations for the WNBPA said last week. “Our goal is to always get a deal done and to negotiate a deal that is fair to both sides.”

A WNBA spokesman declined comment for this story.

Wheeler said the league and the players outlined, in general terms, their priorities for the negotiation at the session they held July 28. But Wheeler declined to reveal what the major issues are for players. “At this point, it’s best for us to negotiate with the league and not negotiate in the media,” she said.

But other player-side sources said they expect players to seek an addition to teams’ 11-woman rosters. The 2008 CBA reduced the roster spots from 13 to 11, and critics say the number does not allow enough flexibility for teams to adjust for player injuries.

“That would be the best thing they can do, if they add one roster spot,” said agent Boris Lelchitski, president and CEO of Sports International Group, which represents 28 current players. “They can’t practice five-on-five if they have injured players [right now].”

The Sun’s Asjha Jones, who plays overseas, took the summer off to recover from injuries.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
He said another issue for WNBA players is the number of games they play without a break, since many WNBA players also play professional basketball overseas and thus don’t have an offseason. The lack of time off can shorten a player’s career and her lifetime earning capacity, he said. “You play nonstop,” Lelchitski said.

The maximum salary for a WNBA player is $107,000, but star players can earn more overseas. Connecticut Sun forward Asjha Jones, one of Lelchitski’s clients, took this WNBA season off to rehab from injuries. “More and more of my players are talking about taking the summer off,” Lelchitski said, alluding to the WNBA’s summer schedule.

Some observers have called into question the CBA’s expiration date of Sept. 30. That date comes amid the league’s playoffs, which are set to begin Sept. 19 and could run through Oct. 16. Labor attorneys found the expiration date odd, as most sports labor deals end between seasons.

“I am not aware of any situation in sports where the collective-bargaining agreement expires on the eve of or during the playoffs,” said Bill Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. Unless there is a side agreement prohibiting it, the players could potentially stage a strike during the playoffs. “That is the best time for players to strike because it puts the maximum amount of pressure on the owners,” said Gould, now a Stanford Law School professor.

Wheeler said there was no side agreement preventing a strike. Asked whether the players would consider a strike, Wheeler said, “Our goal is to get a deal done.”

Lelchitski said, “Honestly, I don’t think there’s going to be a strike. Who’s going to strike?” he asked rhetorically. “Against what?”

The league could legally lock players out while the playoffs are going on, but labor experts said that was unlikely.

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