NFL, Union Agree to Federal Mediation in Labor Dispute
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced Thursday that the two sides in the NFL's collective bargaining negotiations have agreed to submit to federal mediation under the purview of FMCS Director George H. Cohen beginning Friday in Washington, D.C. This doesn't mean the dispute is any closer to being settled, but it does mean the sides are talking again in the hopes of getting a new CBA deal done before the current one expires March 3.
"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Football League and the Players Association," Cohen said in a statement released by the agency. "At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices in Washington, D.C., commencing Friday, February 18. Due the to extreme sensitivity of these negotiations and consistent with the FMCS's long-standing practice, the Agency will refrain from any public comment concerning the future schedule and/or the status of these negotiations until further notice."
That certainly indicates that there could be more than one session with Cohen present, but it's not required. Owners walked away from the bargaining table last week upset about a union proposal, and either side could do so again at any time. The federal mediation is not arbitration, is not binding and each side participates voluntarily. One person connected with the talks described it Thursday as "negotiations with adult supervision."
Given the way the talks have progressed so far, that may not be a bad thing. But it doesn't ensure that the current divide between owners and players on proposed revenue split, 18-game schedule or rookie wage scale can be breached any time soon.
"The NFLPA has always focused on reaching a fair Collective Bargaining Agreement through negotiations," the NFLPA said in a prepared statement. "We hope that this renewed effort, through mediation, will help the players and owners reach a successful deal."
This is the first time the NFL has ever agreed to federal mediation in such a dispute. That could indicate that the league and owners are feeling pressure as a result of some recent PR hits they've taken over the Super Bowl seat fiasco, their walking out of last week's session and the reports that Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson insulted Peyton Manning at a meeting between the two sides just before the Super Bowl. But it could also be part of the owners' ongoing attempt to persuade the public that they're serious about getting a deal done when the other side suspects they're not.
The NFLPA has said many times that it believes the owners intend to lock out the players following the expiration of the current deal and has accused the owners' side of not wanting to negotiate seriously. Earlier this week, the NFL accused the players of the same thing, filing an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The union is also awaiting word on its appeal of a special master's ruling that allows the league access to approximately $4 billion in TV revenues that are guaranteed to pay off even if games are canceled in 2011. That ruling is expected to come before the expiration of the current CBA on March 3.
As FanHouse reported Wednesday night, the union is already making contingency plans to deal directly with league sponsors as a method of supplementing players' income during a lockout.