Transcript of Bob Batterman interview with AP

Following an NFL Players Association conference call with media, NFL outside labor counsel Bob Batterman (right) spoke today with The Associated Press.  Below are key excerpts from that interview.

On the idea that the owners want a lockout:

Bob Batterman: No employer in its right mind wants to shut down its business.  There is damage when there is either a strike or a lockout.  It is not in the employer’s interest to shut down the business.  It is in the employer’s interest to get a deal which gets this industry straightened out for the next generation for the good of the fans, for the good of the players, and yes indeed, the good of the owners.  Nobody is looking for a lockout.  We are looking for a deal.  Is that deal going to require some concessions from the players?  Yes, it is going to require some concessions from the players because the balance has gotten out of whack.  The owners are going to make concessions, too.  We are making changes to working conditions.  We have made proposals to improve benefits for the players.  We have talked about structures to protect the veterans in terms of what the impact of these economic changes are.  There are going to be compromises on both sides, and we are hoping to do it without the necessity of a lockout. 

On players scoffing at the idea that anyone wants a lockout:

BB: They can scoff all they want.  The players may not want a lockout.  I believe the union leadership and counsel want a lockout.  Their strategy is to try and stop us from exercising our federally protected right to lock out.  It is a perfectly legitimate legal, economic weapon in collective bargaining.  These guys struck twice in the 1980s.  Nobody was screaming and hollering that they were against motherhood and apple pie when they struck.  A lockout is no different than a strike, as I am sure you know.  It is just a question of who is pulling the trigger.  When a union wants to improve a contract, their weapon is to strike if there is no agreement.  When the employer wants to improve the contract, their weapon is to lock out if there is no agreement.  There is no moral turpitude involved if we get to a lockout, which may or may not happen.  They have decided that instead of fighting it out using traditional labor weapons, they want to try and avoid the lockout by going through this sham decertification process and trying to bring an anti-trust lawsuit to try and stop us from locking out.  That is why I believe the negotiations are dragging, because they want to get to March 4 so that they can pull that trigger.  Nothing very mysterious about it. 

On NFLPA saying that the owners want a lockout and hiring Mr. Batterman shows it:

BB: I am finishing my 45th year with my law firm as a labor lawyer.  I have been the primary negotiator, which I am not here – here I am counsel to the negotiators – I have been the primary negotiator, the chief spokesman, in hundreds, and I can’t even tell you how many hundreds, of collective bargaining agreements over those 45 years.  Many hundreds.  Of those many hundreds, I have had literally a handful of strikes, and as best as I can determine, two or three lockouts.  All of the rest have been successfully and quietly negotiated peacefully.  I am successful at what I do because I am a deal-maker, not a lockout artist.  I make a very good living, and I am very successful, because I avoid problems. I don’t create confrontations.  I was hired by this league because of that reputation and because if there is going to be a confrontation, you want an experienced, knowledgeable management labor lawyer to guide you through it.  I had the experience with two NHL lockouts.  Nobody else had that experience in professional sports.  So I was in a natural place to be hired.  If you are going to opt out of an agreement, if you are unhappy with the agreement, and you are seeking concessions, you have to be aware that you may be required to lock out to get the union to agree, in which case you want the best lawyer around to do it. 

On union’s reference to Mr. Batterman’s firm:

BB: I don’t know what [Berthelsen] is talking about.  What he said is something about looking at the history of Batterman’s firm.  Batterman’s firm, Proskauer Rose, is known as a deal-making firm, not union busters.  That is a fact.  You can go talk to almost any AFL-CIO union in this country, and you will find out that they are delighted that we are hard bargainers, but that we are honest and fair, and that we are deal-makers.  That is just plain nonsense. 

On when a deal could be realistically reached:

BB: There is enough time remaining.  We have what, about 50 days.  There is no question that a deal could be done, which is a different question than if a deal will be done.  I just don’t see the union being willing to make the compromises at this point.  But is there enough time?  Yes, there is enough time.

Their strategy is not to expedite this, but to slow it down so that they can file an antitrust lawsuit on March 5.

Below is the complete transcript of the interview:

 NFL LABOR COUNSEL BOB BATTERMAN

WITH HOWARD FENDRICH of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

January 13, 2011

 

On future negotiations that are currently scheduled:

BB:  No, there are none.  That is because neither party has requested a specific date.  The negotiations are not proceeding very vigorously.  No one is booking dates right now.

On stalled progress in negotiations:

BB:  As I said yesterday, you need a serious negotiating partner in order to have a negotiation.  What we have been getting back in terms of responses is not conducive to making a deal.

The union has rejected our last proposal on 18-and-2, for example.  They haven’t given us a counter-proposal on 18-and-2 for us to be considering and responding to.  They have just said ‘unacceptable.’

What would be the suggestion?  ‘OK, they didn’t like what we did so we should bargain with ourselves and give them another offer.’  Negotiations don’t work that way.

On the core economic issues, we haven’t been able to get them off a dime in terms of their bargaining position. It is essentially what it was four months ago. 

On the NFLPA’s counterproposal in November to the enhanced season:

BB:  We responded to that with another offer.  They then rejected our offer, giving us nothing more to consider.  They just said, ‘We reject your proposal.  We’re not interested.’

On the timing of the NFL’s second proposal regarding an 18-2 season:

BB:  That would have been the first week of December.  That was the last meeting.

The union made a proposal on 18-and-2.  We made a counter-proposal – we’re talking about the working conditions around it not the number of games, if you follow me, the offseason and the preseason, etc.  We made a counter-proposal and they did not respond with another substantive proposal.  They just rejected ours and said, ‘We’re not interested.’  There is nothing more for us to be offering.  They said ‘no’ so we are stopped dead on that.  That is $500 million that is not going to be generated, of which they would have had approximately half.

On doubting the implementation of an 18-2 season:

BB:  Commissioner Goodell or Jeff Pash at the time we put this on the table told them that we weren’t going to be doing this without an agreement with them, even though we had the legal contractual right to do it unilaterally.  At this point, the answer is if there is no agreement, we are not going to do it.  We may reduce the number of preseason games; we may go to 16-and-2, but we are not going to increase the number of regular-season games without an agreement.

That of course costs them a couple hundred million dollars.  Their paychecks go down if that is what we are forced to do.  That we can do on our own.

By the way, we told the union that an alternative to 18-and-2 is 16-and-2 but that we were not thinking of continuing the four preseason games, which our fans don’t want us to continue.  This is about the fans.  It is not about the owners and it is not about the players.  Those preseason games are about the fans. 

On the NFL proposing a 16-and-2 season:

BB:  We haven’t proposed it yet.  We said that the alternative to us if we don’t do 18-and-2 would be 16-and-2.  We asked the union to consider whether that is their preference, even though it means a reduction in revenues because of the lost tickets.

On the NFLPA’s response to a 16-and-2 schedule:

BB:  They rejected our 18-and-2 proposal.  They haven’t dealt with the 16-and-2.  That wasn’t a formal proposal; it was part of the discussion.

On being ‘stopped dead’ on an 18-game regular season:

BB:  I mean the process as of today appears to be stopped dead in the water in the sense that we made a counter-proposal and they have rejected it and said they were not interested in 18-and-2.  They have not made a counter-proposal to ours. Therefore, we have nothing to be considering a further response to.  It is a process. 

On NFLPA statements that the last ‘meaningful, substantive’ meeting occurred around Thanksgiving:

BB:  No, it is totally inaccurate.  Let me rephrase what they should have said:  Since around Thanksgiving, there has not been a formal large-group bargaining session but there have been smaller-group discussions which have indeed had meaningful, substantive exchanges – proposals and counterproposals, including the 18-and-2 that I was just talking about, including core economic issues and including the rookie wage scale.

They are talking formalities.  What Berthelsen or Atallah was talking about were formal, big sessions with 20 people in the room.  What I’m talking about are smaller-group sessions that have taken place in which very serious discussions have been held.

On the NFL not responding to the NFLPA’s proposals regarding the rookie wage scale:

BB:  He is incorrect.  They did make a proposal.  No question about it. They made a proposal on rookie pay.  We pointed out the very serious deficiencies we saw in that proposal and maintained a proposal that we had previously made.  There have been discussions since the discussions that Mr. Berthelsen is talking about. 

On possibility of progress coming out of the owner’s meeting:

BB: There is nothing stopping the parties from having big sessions or small sessions.  The problem is whether we are going to be making any progress or not.  If we had anything that we thought was stopping us from agreeing to a meeting, I would be the first to be eliminating whatever that was.  There is nothing stopping us from agreeing to meetings on either side.  I just don’t see that the union is ready to make any further proposals.  That is fine.  That happens in collective bargaining.  But until they are ready to make some reasonable movement, we are not making much progress. 

On players scoffing at the idea that anyone wants a lockout:

BB: They can scoff all they want.  The players may not want a lockout.  I believe the union leadership and counsel want a lockout.  Their strategy is to try and stop us from exercising our federally protected right to lock out.  It is a perfectly legitimate legal, economic weapon in collective bargaining.  These guys struck twice in the 1980s.  Nobody was screaming and hollering that they were against motherhood and apple pie when they struck.  A lockout is no different than a strike, as I am sure you know.  It is just a question of who is pulling the trigger.  When a union wants to improve a contract, their weapon is to strike if there is no agreement.  When the employer wants to improve the contract, their weapon is to lock out if there is no agreement.  There is no moral turpitude involved if we get to a lockout, which may or may not happen.  They have decided that instead of fighting it out using traditional labor weapons, they want to try and avoid the lockout by going through this sham decertification process and trying to bring an anti-trust lawsuit to try and stop us from locking out.  That is why I believe the negotiations are dragging, because they want to get to March 4 so that they can pull that trigger.  Nothing very mysterious about it. 

On NFLPA saying that the owners want a lockout and hiring Mr. Batterman shows it:

BB: I am finishing my 45th year with my law firm as a labor lawyer.  I have been the primary negotiator, which I am not here – here I am counsel to the negotiators – I have been the primary negotiator, the chief spokesman, in hundreds, and I can’t even tell you how many hundreds, of collective bargaining agreements over those 45 years.  Many hundreds.  Of those many hundreds, I have had literally a handful of strikes, and as best as I can determine, two or three lockouts.  All of the rest have been successfully and quietly negotiated peacefully.  I am successful at what I do because I am a deal-maker, not a lockout artist.  I make a very good living, and I am very successful, because I avoid problems. I don’t create confrontations.  I was hired by this league because of that reputation and because if there is going to be a confrontation, you want an experienced, knowledgeable management labor lawyer to guide you through it.  I had the experience with two NHL lockouts.  Nobody else had that experience in professional sports.  So I was in a natural place to be hired.  If you are going to opt out of an agreement, if you are unhappy with the agreement, and you are seeking concessions, you have to be aware that you may be required to lock out to get the union to agree, in which case you want the best lawyer around to do it. 

On union’s reference to Mr. Batterman’s firm:

BB: I don’t know what [Berthelsen] is talking about.  What he said is something about looking at the history of Batterman’s firm.  Batterman’s firm, Proskauer Rose, is known as a deal-making firm, not union busters.  That is a fact.  You can go talk to almost any AFL-CIO union in this country, and you will find out that they are delighted that we are hard bargainers, but that we are honest and fair, and that we are deal-makers.  That is just plain nonsense. 

On the idea that the owners want a lockout:

BB: No employer in its right mind wants to shut down its business.  There is damage when there is either a strike or a lockout.  It is not in the employer’s interest to shut down the business.  It is in the employer’s interest to get a deal which gets this industry straightened out for the next generation for the good of the fans, for the good of the players, and yes indeed, the good of the owners.  Nobody is looking for a lockout.  We are looking for a deal.  Is that deal going to require some concessions from the players?  Yes, it is going to require some concessions from the players because the balance has gotten out of whack.  The owners are going to make concessions, too.  We are making changes to working conditions.  We have made proposals to improve benefits for the players.  We have talked about structures to protect the veterans in terms of what the impact of these economic changes are.  There are going to be compromises on both sides, and we are hoping to do it without the necessity of a lockout. 

On when a deal could be realistically reached:

BB: There is enough time remaining.  We have what, about 50 days.  There is no question that a deal could be done, which is a different question than if a deal will be done.  I just don’t see the union being willing to make the compromises at this point.  But is there enough time?  Yes, there is enough time. 

Their strategy is not to expedite this, but to slow it down so that they can file an antitrust lawsuit on March 5. 

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