Jeff Pash agrees with Mike Vrabel: “Let’s have decision makers at the table together. We could be back negotiating Wednesday”

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash spoke with media today at the NFL Annual Meeting in New Orleans and adressed Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and NFLPA Executive Committee member Mike Vrabel’s call to meet with “people that are willing and can agree to a deal.”

“The point that Mike Vrabel made, even though it was not too flattering towards me — was a fair one, that the people who are writing the checks and the people who are cashing the checks should be at the table together,” Pash said. “And let’s have decision makers at the table together.  So when he said that their executive committee should be meeting with the CEC, I understand that point of view.  That is why we were quick to say that our team, including owners and including the owners that they asked for, would be prepared to meet with the Union’s Executive Committee — Mike Vrabel, Drew Brees, Kevin Mawae, Tony Richardson, and whatever other members of the Executive Committee they want to have there — and we can do that any time.”

“We could be back negotiating with them tomorrow or Wednesday if they wanted to after this meeting concludes,” Pash added. “The fact that there are proceedings at the Labor Board would not, in my judgment, hold up a negotiation or hold up trying to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association.”

Following is a transcript of Pash’s press conference:

NFL EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT JEFF PASH

ANNUAL MEETING PRESS CONFERENCE

Monday, March 21, 2011

 

Opening remarks:

Good afternoon everyone.  The clubs are going back into a session now to talk about the Competition Committee report and the various playing rules issues and health and safety issues they are going to be considering.  This morning, we had a thorough briefing on the labor situation in a privileged session, including comments from all of the attorneys who you met with today.  We took all of the questions from the clubs — it is part of the Commissioner’s commitment to make sure the clubs are thoroughly informed and have a full understanding of the status of all of the matters relating to collective bargaining.  I thought it was a good session, quite detailed, and the clubs remain very engaged and very committed to trying to work through this situation and reach a new agreement with the players, and that is our focus. 

On Pricewaterhouse report:

I don’t know what you mean by that — I have never seen a Pricewaterhouse report so I don’t know what you mean by 52.9 percent of all revenue.  But there is a concept in the agreement which was negotiated in painstaking detail called total revenue.  Total revenue is the basis on which the salary cap is calculated, and has been for years.  There is no dispute between us and the Players Association that the players have received 70 percent of incremental total revenue since we entered into this agreement at the start of the 2006 season.  If you want to change the denominator, you can change the percentage.  But for the revenue base that is defined in the bargaining agreement — and if you have ever looked at it, it goes on for pages — it is about as painstakingly worked through as the tax code.  The figures, whether we compute them or the union computes them, comes out to 70 percent, and in some years as high as 75 percent.  So if someone has some other figure in mind, that is fine, but in terms of what is in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, 70 percent is accurate.

On if there was a message to the owners on why the talks broke down:

I think the owners understand what happened at the end of the mediation session was that the union left and announced that they had engaged in this so-called decertification and filed their lawsuit.  It is not much more complicated than that.  That is unfortunately what happened.  We were meeting with them as late as about 4:15 on the afternoon of Friday, March 11.  At about 5 o’clock we got a letter saying that as of 4:00 PM, in other words as they were still meeting with us, as of 4:00 PM they claimed to have renounced their bargaining rights.  That is what happened.

On if there is any middle ground in restarting talks with the NFLPA:

I have heard about a letter.  I have not seen a letter or talked to people about it.  But I gather that came up when Gregg Levy, David Boise, and the other attorneys were here.  The point that Mike Vrabel made, even though it was not too flattering towards me — was a fair one, that the people who are writing the checks and the people who are cashing the checks should be at the table together.  And let’s have decision makers at the table together.  So when he said that their executive committee should be meeting with the CEC, I understand that point of view.  That is why we were quick to say that our team, including owners and including the owners that they asked for, would be prepared to meet with the Union’s Executive Committee — Mike Vrabel, Drew Brees, Kevin Mawae, Tony Richardson, and whatever other members of the Executive Committee they want to have there — and we can do that any time.

In terms of middle ground, one possibility which we have entertained would be going back to the mediation process.  That is a confidential process, and it is one that we think had a lot of benefit over the course of about 18 days or so that we were in Washington with George Cohen and his deputy.  Perhaps that would be a way of restarting.  But the critical thing is that our commitment is to negotiate.  We are not going to solve this in litigation.  All that is going to do is delay a solution.  And I think we made some real progress over the course of the mediation.  Obviously we did no conclude an agreement.  But we certainly got closer on a number of important issues.  Perhaps getting back into that setting would be a way of building on that progress. 

On proposals to continue dialogue:

We will listen to whatever people want to propose.  But as I said, in some ways the most sensible proposal, and it was not very flattering, was to have the Union’s Executive Committee and our owners.  We certainly would not say you can’t bring your attorneys or advisors — they could bring their attorneys, we could bring our attorneys — but have the principles, get back in perhaps with George Cohen and Scott Beckenbaugh at the FMCS and resume these negotiations.  It is unfortunate that I have to say ‘resuming negotiations,’ because negotiations were going on for 18 days under the supervision of federal mediators who are highly trained and who did a really terrific job of trying to move the parties toward an agreement.  It was not the NFL owners who walked out of the mediation.  It was not the NFL owners who broke off negotiations.  So it is unfortunate that we have to talk about resuming negotiations.  But that is where we are.  So we are prepared to do that, but I think it has to be done on a basis where we can engage in confidential, honest discussions where we can have the kind of dialogue we were having in Washington, and maybe build on some of that progress.

On decertification tactic:

There is going to be an agreement with the Union.  There is no question about that.  There is going to be a labor agreement.  We don’t accept that the Union has ‘decertified’ or something like that.  We don’t accept that, we don’t believe that it has taken place.  We believe that is a tactical move by the NFLPA.  We believe they are continuing to function as a labor organization.  We believe they intend to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with us.  And we think we should get over the falderal and get to it.

On amount of time NLRB ruling could take:

On the NLRB ruling, I don’t know the timing of it, honestly.  I assume Bob Batterman was here for the earlier briefing.  He would be the best person to talk to about that. 

On legal process holding the process up:

It depends on what process you mean, because it does not hang up a negotiation process.  We could be back negotiating with them tomorrow or Wednesday if they wanted to after this meeting concludes.  The fact that there are proceedings at the Labor Board would not, in my judgment, hold up a negotiation or hold up trying to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association. 

On legal process:

I don’t know what we are selling at the moment.  Think about where we are.  They filed a complaint 10 days ago.  There is not a claim that needs to be settled at this point.  All they have done is filed a complaint.  What was done 20 years ago was done in a very different context, and I don’t think it is automatically replicable.

On financial transparency issue and if there is a dispute over the numbers already provided:

There should not be, because we set it out in writing and we offered it in the context of the mediation process.  I don’t think there should be uncertainty about what we are asking for.   The surprising thing to me about the financial transparency issue is that the Union felt as though, without even looking at the first page of any document, that they could just say that is was ‘valueless,’ that it ‘was of no use to us,’ and that is was ‘laughable.’  It would seem to me that before you would make that kind of a sweeping judgment, you might want to look at that information and see what it says, and then you can say that we looked at it and it does not answer certain questions.  Or that we looked at it, and we need more information on these certain points.  But without knowing what it says, although I believe they do know what it would say, without bothering to look at it, without bothering to see what the trends on profitability are, without bothering to see how things have changed, to say it is ‘laughable’ or ‘of no value whatsoever’ — that strikes me as a rather sweeping position to take, and perhaps not consistent with really doing solid due diligence. 

On certain owners saying they are willing to disclose more:

You have to see where you are and what you have offered first.  One of the things the Union has said, because they do have full insight into, for example, the Green Bay figures, which do show a rather sharp and consistent decline in profitability over the four years of this agreement, and they show it in the context of a club where there is no owner or no owner family member who could be taking any money.  I know Mark Murphy does not fly around in a private plane, and I know they are not paying dividends to their owners — it is a pretty straightforward P&L.  They have said ‘well don’t talk to us about one club.’  So I am not sure Pat’s [Broncos owner Pat Bowlen] offer [would suffice], and they have certainly not shown any interest in that, in looking at it.  We tried to deal with the issue in a straightforward way.  We will give you the league-wide figures and audited numbers, we will allow you to verify it, and we will give individual club numbers to an agreed upon third party for review.  We need to understand why that offer, which is pretty forthcoming, is somehow ‘laughable’ or ‘of no value.’

On estimates of growth being around $40.6 billion over the next few years:

Without having numbers in front of me, I can’t say.  For the sake of your question, let’s say it is $40 billion. 

[Question continued] You and Joe Banner were quoted last week saying it was about $20 billion, is that correct?

I think that is correct, yes.

[Question continued] If they said let’s do a 50-50 split based on those projections, that would have been about $20.3 billion, is that right?

It depends on what you assume the revenue figures would be.  If you are saying $40.6 billion, then yes, half of that is $20.3 billion. 

[Question continued] Why then was their 50-50 offer not acceptable to you?

If you are telling me that the Union is prepared to do a deal with us, and that the difference is $300 million over four seasons, you are telling me something that the Union did not bother to say to us.  The point you are making is exactly what collective bargaining is all about.  What the Union should have done is instead of walking out of the room and claiming to give up its bargaining rights and filing a lawsuit, they should have said ‘hey, we think over these four seasons we are about $300 million apart, because we think the revenues are $40.6 billion, and we think we should get 50 percent, or $20.3 billion, so we think we are about $300 million apart based on your estimate – let’s talk about that.’  But they did not do that.  That is the problem.  That is the kind of conversation, meaning no disrespect to anyone here, we ought not to be having it in a news conference, we ought to be having it in a bargaining session, particularly since, to Mike Vrabel’s point, we had the whole CEC there.  They could talk to Jerry Richardson, they could talk to Jerry Jones, and they could talk to Clark Hunt and John Mara and Art Rooney.  They did not have to talk to Pash, Batterman, and Goodell.  They could talk to the owners.  They had all of the players there.  But no one said that.  Instead, they said ‘we have a 5 o’clock deadline,’ walked out of the room, and filed their lawsuit. 

[Question continued] They said they did not have a lot of conversations with the owners in mediation

Well when you are in a hurry to get out of the room and file lawsuits, it is understandable why there is not a lot of conversation.  That is a fact. 

On the presence of an 18-game component in a new CBA:

I have said before that it is an easier deal to make with 18 games because of the economics but one of the things we did an in effort to try to bridge the gaps is we agreed that we would implement all of the changes in the offseason program, the changes in training camp and things like that without tying it to 18 games.  We were prepared to do those immediately for 2011 and for 2011 and 2012, for at least those two seasons; we would play within the 16-and-4 format.  Then, any move to 18 games would be a move that we would have to agree upon and that the union would have to find agreeable.

Could there be an 18-game regular season at some point?  I think the answer is yes, but it would be something that would have to be negotiated.  We would have to talk about what the revenues would be and how those would be shared between the clubs and the players.  It would all be a part of a negotiation.

In the meantime, all the changes in the offseason program and the like – the five fewer weeks of offseason program, eliminating a number of OTAs, reducing the number of practices in full pads, limiting the use of helmets, strictly enforcing the no-contact rules and things like that – would all go into effect immediately.  The players and frankly the coaches would get benefit from that as well. 

On discussing during the meetings how the league would operate if an injunction were granted by the appellate court:

Given the privileged nature of the discussion that we had with the owners, I should just say that we talked about the full range of alternatives in terms of possible litigation outcomes and possible steps that we would take in response to the litigation.  I don’t think I should go beyond that given the privileged nature of the discussion that we had with the clubs.

On applied rules if an injunction were granted:

We really haven’t gotten to the stage of focusing on that because right now we are concentrating on two things: one is planning for the 2011 season under what we hope will be new, agreed to terms with the players association and the other obviously is the immediate litigation issues. 

On if owners expressed concern with how the league would operate if an injunction was granted:

There was not concern expressed to us this morning.  You said that you had heard that from coaches and general managers.  I don’t believe there were any coaches in the session this morning and there were some general managers but they did not express any concerns.

On if the NFL filed a motion to stay an injunction until the NLRB rules on the league’s unfair labor practice claim:

I don’t believe we filed a motion.  I believe that the paper that we filed today opposing the union’s motion for an injunction made several arguments, one of which is that the issues that are before the NLRB need to be resolved before the matter should be considered by a federal court.  That is one of the arguments that was made but I do not believe we separately asked the court in the form of a separate pleading to stay anything.  Again, that is something Gregg Levy or David Boies, the people who wrote the briefs, could comment on in more detail. 

On offering lifetime medical benefits to the players in the NFL’s most recent proposal:

One of the things we heard over the course of the mediation and we have heard it in other settings is that it is difficult sometimes for players to get medical care after they leave the NFL.  As I think most people know, we provide five years of post-career medical, which is funded entirely by the clubs and then at the end of that time, players have sometimes found difficulty in getting medical care.  What we offered was at the end of the five years of post-career medical to allow players to remain in the medical plan by simply paying the premium.   Buy the insurance and you can stay in the medical plan.  You would get the advantage of the group rate.  You would get the same network of doctors.  You would not have any issues with preexisting conditions or waiting periods or anything like that.

One way to fund that would be through this health savings account, which was set up in the 2006 agreement.  It is sort of like a 401K for medical expenses.  The clubs contribute certain amounts into that account every year under the old agreement and we offered to continue that benefit.  In effect, over the course of a player’s career, you can easily get an account worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that can then be used to pay medical insurance premiums down the road.  That is consistent with the approach, at least as we understand it, that is followed in some of the other sports leagues.

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