Archive for March, 2011

We agree on this: Let’s collectively bargain and negotiate a new deal

Since the NFL Players Association decertified on March 11, a number of players have publicly commented on the importance of continuing negotiations.  Commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this week called for a return to the bargaining table in mediation.

“Litigation is not going to solve this problem,” Commissioner Goodell said. “It is clearly going to be solved through labor negotiations.  The faster we can get back to mediation, the faster we will get an agreement.”

Following is a sampling of those player comments:

“We want to be able to play football while we’re continuing to negotiate this.” – Indianapolis C and NFLPA Exec Committee member Jeff Saturday (ESPN, 3/11/11)

“We’ve expressed that we’re ready to begin talks as soon as they’re ready.” — Baltimore CB and NFLPA Executive Committee member Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore Sun, 3/19/11)

“Keep it behind closed doors and get this thing hammered out. For people to go to the media and say you’re not doing things right, it never works good that way. Everyone is making each other look bad and making them mad at each other. The only way I think it can get done is if everyone sits in a room, doesn’t talk to the media and work it out.” — Eagles TE Brent Celek (610 WIP Radio-Philadelphia, 3/16/11)

“I don’t know the exact legal ramifications for how and when we would have to negotiate and continue to negotiate.  We are always willing to negotiate though.  We have no desire to have this be stagnant in the litigation system.” – Arizona K and union rep Jay Feely (Pro Football Talk Live, 3/14/11)

“We are willing to negotiate, but we don’t want to negotiate with Bob Batterman and Jeff Pash or Roger Goodell; our executive committee needs to negotiate with Jerry Jones, Bob Kraft, Jerry Richardson, their executive committee. People that are willing and can agree to a deal… We’re willing to negotiate on the economics of football.” – Kansas City LB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Mike Vrabel (ESPN, 3/17/11)

“[The NFL offer is] too good to be true is what I am trying to say.  There are a lot of good things about it… I am sure that we will get back to the negotiating table… I am sure we will have a counterproposal but I think they just want to look everything over and talk to the guys who make the decisions.  – Minnesota LB and union rep Ben Leber (Pro Football Talk Live, 3/18/11)

“I’m tired of all this emailing each other. How abt the owners and the NFLPA get ur behinds back to the table and talk it out there.” – New York Jets CB Antonio Cromartie (Twitter, 3/19/11)

“Let’s continue to negotiate as we move forward and see what happens.” — Indianapolis C and NFLPA Executive Committee member Jeff Saturday (ESPN The Fan 1070, 3/16/11)

Does collective bargaining work for players? Dolphins’ Incognito latest to show it does: “We kicked their butts in last negotiation so we’re not going to settle”

Offensive lineman Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins is the latest player to demonstrate that collective bargaining by the players’ union has worked well for the players, whose compensation has doubled in the past decade.

“We kicked their butts in the last negotiation so we’re not going to settle,” said Incognito, who has played seven seasons with Buffalo, Miami and St. Louis, in an ESPN.com story posted Tuesday. “This is our livelihood and as players we’re united. We’re sticking together 100 percent.”

Former quarterback Kurt Warner, a two-time league MVP, made a similar observation earlier this month.

“We had a great deal. We had one of the best deals, in my opinion, of any of the pro sports when you are talking about all of the things involved,” said Warner, who played with three clubs in his 12-year NFL career. “Players knew that. We understood that. It afforded us lots of luxuries and making a lot of money.”

Both players’ comments echoed those of NFLPA president Kevin Mawae on Sirius XM’s “Mad Dog Radio” on January 27. In that interview, Mawae stated, “I think what really happened is in 2006, we got such a great deal.”

As Commissioner Roger Goodell said yesterday at the conclusion of an NFL meeting in New Orleans, “Litigation is not going to solve this problem.  It is clearly going to be solved through labor negotiations.  The faster we can get back to mediation, the faster we will get an agreement.”

Commissioner Goodell: “The faster we can get back to mediation, the faster we will get an agreement”

Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to the media this afternoon following the NFL Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

“The faster we can get back to mediation, the faster we will get an agreement,” Commissioner Goodell said. “We made a lot of progress in mediation. The 17 days we were there forced us all to consider our positions, find the common ground, negotiate, and come up with solutions for the issues that we’ve all addressed that are important to the game, important to the players and important to the clubs.  I’m hopeful that we’ll get back there and resume them.”

Following is the transcript from the Commissioner’s press conference:

NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

NFL ANNUAL MEETING – NEW ORLEANS, LA

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Good afternoon.  We had a good two days of meetings.  Our primary focus was obviously on our labor dispute and on our planning and preparation on that.   The second piece was obviously this is our annual meeting and we traditionally focus on our football-related matters, including the Competition Committee report which we did yesterday and again voted on all of those matters today.

On an operational plan if the players are granted an injunction blocking the lockout:

I can tell you that we are prepared for every eventuality.  What we have said over the last couple of years is that our goal and our objective here is to get a collective bargaining agreement that is fair to all parties.  We want to do that as fast as possible but we also recognize that we had to be prepared for other alternatives.  Clearly, the union chose to litigate and we knew that was a possibility.  We are prepared for that. 

On the goal of his letter to NFL players:

It happens frequently when you get into labor disputes.  What the ownership wanted to make sure was that the players knew what their leadership had walked away from in the mediation process.  We sent that directly to the players.  They are claiming not to be a union but we think it was important for us to send that so the players understood what the owners had offered and what came out of the mediation process.  I understand there is usually a reaction when those things happen but the most important thing is that people are informed.
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Competition Committee press conference transcript

NFL COMPETITION COMMITTEE CHAIR & FALCONS PRESIDENT RICH MC KAY

NFL PLAYING RULE PROPOSAL RESULTS

2011 NFL ANNUAL MEETING – NEW ORLEANS, LA

 Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This morning we voted on four rules proposals.  There were five that were put forth, one of which we tabled until May and that would be Playing Rule Proposal No. 1.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 1 is the one that involved the defenseless players and a rewrite of the rule.  There are a number of elements in Playing Rule Proposal No. 1.  The pushback from the room was if we could separate some of those elements into separate rules and have a little bit better understanding of it.  The number two pushback with that rule was there was a sea change in the way the game was played after midseason because of the emphasis by the Commissioner’s office with respect to fines.  We think that the play got better after that.  Our intent would be to take Playing Rule Proposal No. 1; split it up; take the unnecessary roughness part of the rule, which involved this new element of launching and create a separate rule for that; and then go back and propose the defenseless player rewrite as a separate rule.  We are going to work through that as a committee in the next 30-60 days and then we will go from there.  A valid point made by them: We knew when we decided the whole rule together that it was going to be a six-page rule that was going to look complicated.  That was not the intent and that is not what the change really achieved.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 2 was the kickoff.  That rule passed and ended up in a form we called Playing Rule Proposal No. 2A.  2A ended up having the following elements: the kickoff will be from the 35-yard line; the touchback will be at the 20-yard line; the out-of-bounds penalty will move the ball as it always has to the 40; and the rule otherwise will remain the same.  The two-man wedge would be allowed; the three-man wedge would be prohibited.  That is the change to the kickoff.  That was rule proposal 2A.  The five-yard restraining line applies.  Players (on the kicking team) must line up at the 30 and no further back than that.

We had a lot of discussion but probably not as much as I thought this morning on that.  We had a lot of discussion about that yesterday so maybe that is why.  We were responsive to that and that is where we created 2A.  The two points made yesterday were that the touchback they wanted to keep at the 20 because they didn’t want to over-incentivize the high, shorter kick with the idea of trapping them inside of the 25.  The two-man wedge – I tend to agree with them because I watched all of the tape on every single kickoff injury – really was not the driving force in injuries.  It just wasn’t.  There were a number of committee members who thought we should propose initially every single element and then decide which elements may come out and that is how it ended up.  That is Playing Rule Proposal 2A.

Playing Rule Proposal 3 is what I would call a modernization of instant replay.  It would take away from the coaches the challenge on scoring plays and put it in the hands of the replay assistant upstairs.  That replay assistant will be required to confirm every scoring play.  If he doesn’t confirm the play, obviously, the referee will review the play.  The ball would be held by the umpire until he has gotten the signal that the play had been confirmed.

We changed Playing Rule Proposal 3 to make it 3A.  The reason we made it 3A was to make it very, very clear that the coach would not be allowed to challenge that play.  I thought it was clear in 3.  It became even clearer in 3A.

Today, a team proposed an amendment that would become 3B and that amendment would allow for the third challenge in the event the coach gets the first two correct.  That amendment passed.  For an amendment to pass, you need a majority.  We voted on Rule Proposal 3B, which passed.  3B is now in place and instant replay has been changed accordingly.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 4, It is a double-foul proposal that you have a copy of.  It passed as you would expect 32-0.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 5 is only an answer to some great advertiser who may have dreamed of changing the field color.  It obviously passed, too.

That is where the rules are.  Playing Rule Proposal No. 1 is the only one that ended up getting tabled.  Otherwise, those all passed.  They passed in various forms. 
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ESPN.com on NBA negotiations: Despite open books “union and league can’t even agree on how much players are making”

Henry Abbott of ESPN.com recently examined NBA labor negotiations with the league’s CBA set to expire on June 30. The NBA Players Association continues to dispute the league’s finances despite the NBA opening its books to the union.

“The NBA has shared with the players’ union audited financial reports for all 30 teams which unequivocally demonstrate why Mr. [Billy] Hunter favors the expiring agreement and why it does not work for us,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Writes Abbott, “The NBPA contends the reality is more complex than is expressed in those documents. Hunter questioned some accounting procedures on what constitutes operating losses, and pointed out that, in many markets, team owners also earn revenue from also owning local TV networks that carry the teams’ games. He also said owning an NBA team comes with a high profile that helps owners’ other businesses.”

“The union and league can’t even agree on how much players are making right now,” Abbott continued. “The league contends that salaries have gone up in every year since the current agreement’s 2005 inception. The union counters that the amount owners have agreed to pay players has gone down each of the last three years.”

In NFL negotiations, NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash outlined what the NFL offered the union before it decertified on March 11.

“We did offer to release five years of individual club-by-club financial documents to a mutually acceptable third party to review, analyze and report on those documents,” Pash said. “We also offered to give the union aggregate profit data for the 32 clubs as a whole so they could see how the profitability has changed over the years. We offered substantial financial disclosures and the union chose not to take it.”

For the complete ESPN.com story, click here.

Competition Committee transcript

 COMPETITION COMMITTEE TRANSCRIPT – MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2011 

COMPETITION COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN RICK MC KAY & NFL EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS RAY ANDERSON

Rich McKay: “Ok, so today as we’ve done in years past [on] day one of the NFL owners’ meeting, we presented the Competition Committee report. So we would have had a couple [of] different times where the coaches, the GMs and then today the owners heard the report last night. The coaches were shown video, went through the rules, the rules proposals and the like. This morning, the entire report was gone through and the football operations segment and then the owners at 1:30 today. So we’ve covered the report a lot with them. It’s a pretty simple report compared to years past in the sense that we only have five basic rule proposals, two of which are very technical in nature and not worth necessarily discussing, three of which are pretty substantial rules. Two of those rules are based on player safety, and one of those rules is kind of based on modernizing, if you will, the instant replay system. So we’re happy to discuss any of those. In the back of our report, we do a couple of things: we have a section that is kind of on miscellaneous positions. That really is a section that is based on a lot of issues that come into the league office during the year, a lot of player personnel issues and issues that are related to football operations. We take positions on those for the league office. The second section is the playing rules clarifications, positions and clarifications. Those are rules that we don’t believe need any changing, but because of plays that occurred during the season, because of questions from coaches, whatever it may be, we offer clarifications of that rule, some of which will change a word or two in the rulebook but don’t change the officiating of the rule itself. That’s kind of how the book is broken down. I’ll go through the playing rule proposal if you want.

“Playing rule proposal number one is, as I talked about on the call the other day, really a kind of a re-writeof the defenseless player rule, and really all we’re trying to do there is get the language kind of uniform. We created its own article; it was in Article 8, it’s now been moved to Article 9. It will just focus on the defenseless player. A couple of changes that will occur, if this were to pass, is in the unnecessary roughness section in Article 8 we added a section for illegal launching. That is a tactic in which we’ve seen more of. We certainly saw more of when we watched the college tape than you would like to see also, which is when a player leaves both feet either prior to or during contact to spring forward and upward, and then strikes the opponent with the initial force being with his helmet. And it literally is for what we’re seeing more players do, which is become comfortable with the idea that their helmet can be the initial point of contact – either in a tackle, a block, any play – than we would ever used to see. It’s the problem that is presented by the helmet – and the shoulder pads too – but the helmet, in the sense that these were protective padding by design in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I think have become a little more comfortable to the players as more of almost armament, if you will, and feeling very comfortable that they’re not subject to injury when they use them, specifically the helmet. And that’s what this rule is directed at, is trying to get that tactic out of the game, or technique is probably a better word.

The next thing is in Article 9 of that rule, the only change to defenseless player really is an expansion of the defenseless receiver, which is a specific category in the rule itself. Basically what we’re saying in this rule is that a defenseless receiver is one defined as ‘either attempting to catch a pass, or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, or who has not clearly become a runner.’ We’re just trying to expand that window. We’ve got a lot of players, too many players, that are catching the ball, landing with two feet on the ground [and] before they can do anything, they get hit and they get hit in the head. In our mind, that’s kind of defenseless. Defenseless should mean, in our mind, that you should be a runner or someone able to defend yourself before you’re subject to that type of hit.

“So that’s the two major changes. There are a couple of other minor changes in there [that] don’t really change the rule itself. I’ll take any questions if you guys have questions about that rule.”
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NFL filing in NFLPA’s antitrust litigation: Union’s “‘heads I win, tails you lose’ approach is not and cannot be the law”

The NFL today filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota its opposition brief in the NFLPA’s antitrust litigation. Following are excerpts from the brief:

  • One party to a collective bargaining relationship cannot, through its own tactical and unilateral conduct, instantaneously oust federal labor law or extinguish another party’s labor law rights.
  • The NLRB is now considering whether the union has purported to disclaim in order to gain a tactical bargaining advantage, rather than disclaiming unequivocally and in good faith, as the federal labor laws require.  If the Board finds such a violation, it will issue an order requiring the union to return to the collective bargaining table.  Under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, the Court must stay this case pending the outcome of the Board proceedings.
  • The injunction sought by plaintiffs here is precisely the kind of relief that Congress barred by enacting the Norris-LaGuardia Act.
  • [T]he question whether the NFLPA remains a collective-bargaining representative is fundamental to determining numerous rights and responsibilities of the parties under the labor laws.  It is therefore a core labor-law question that demands uniform resolution by the expert agency.  If this Court were to enter an injunction reflecting its view that the Union has validly disclaimed, but the NLRB were to determine otherwise and issue an order compelling the Union to return to the collective bargaining table as the players’ representative, all parties to this controversy would find themselves in an untenable position.
  • Under the [National Labor Relations Act], a union’s disclaimer of interest in collective bargaining is effective only if it was “unequivocal” and “made in good faith.”  Disclaimers are made in bad faith—and are therefore ineffectual and invalid—when they are done as a “tactical maneuver,” or when the disclaimer was “obviously employed only as a measure of momentary expedience, or strategy in bargaining.”
  • In short, the National Labor Relations Board will likely conclude that the NFLPA has not engaged in the good faith, unequivocal renunciation that the NLRA requires, and it likely will issue an order requiring the Union to resume collective bargaining negotiations with the NFL member clubs.
  • Plaintiffs cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits because, notwithstanding the NFLPA’s purported disclaimer, the challenged lockout is protected from antitrust scrutiny by the nonstatutory labor exemption.
  • The Court should be especially wary of finding that this situation is “sufficiently distant in time and in circumstances” that the exemption no longer applies, given this Union’s previous history of disclaimer followed by bargaining, and the multiple recent statements of its leadership confirming that its purported disclaimer was an interim step, undertaken for tactical reasons, in anticipation of reaching another collective bargaining agreement.
  • Under plaintiffs’ theory, the NFL is subject to antitrust liability if it ceases or refuses to continue football operations, and it is subject to antitrust liability if it does not.  This “heads I win, tails you lose” approach is not and cannot be the law.
  • Enjoining one side in a labor dispute from using the economic tools available to it under the labor laws would contravene the policy underlying the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the primary jurisdiction of the NLRB, and federal labor law generally, by replacing bilateral negotiation with a unilateral ability to place a judicial injunctive thumb on the collective bargaining scale.

For the complete brief, click here.

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:
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NFL Alumni’s Jeff Nixon: Current players offered lifetime health benefit

Former NFL player Jeff Nixon (left) writes under the header “Current players offered lifetime medical.” Nixon, a member of the national advocacy committee for the “Fourth and Goal” organization of NFL Alumni, notes that under the proposal from NFL owners on March 11, “current players were offered the right to continue participating in the NFL’s medical plan after they retire.”

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash outlined that portion of the proposal last week in an interview on Sirius NFL Radio.

“One of the benefits that was created in the last agreement, which we would be continuing, was a health savings account where players, over the course of their career, can build up hundreds of thousands of dollars, in a benefit fund, sort of like a 401k, but for medical expenses which they could then use to pay the premium to stay in the medical plan so there would be no issue of preexisting conditions.,” Pash said. “There would be no issue of trying to buy insurance as an individual or having to pay the higher rates when you are outside the group.  You’d have the same quality of care and the same network all over the country.  We thought that the reaction of the players and the reaction of union officials to that proposal was really very positive.  That is obviously the first time that the opportunity has been available from the NFL.”

Nixon also discussed the heath reimbursement account that active players can draw upon to pay for health insurance.

“The Gene Upshaw HRA (Health Reimbursement Account) was a benefit that former NFLPA President Troy Vincent and Gene Upshaw were successful in negotiating into the 2006 CBA,” Nixon wrote.

“A player is eligible for the HRA Plan if (a) he earned a credited season under the Bert Bell / Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan for 2006 or for any year after that (if a Salary Cap was in place) and has a total of three or more credited seasons, or (b) his last credited season was either 2004 or 2005 and he had a total of eight or more credited seasons,” Nixon continued. “Players receive $25,000 for each of their credited seasons and an additional $50,000 when they achieve their third credited season.

“Eligible players did not receive $25,000 in 2010 because it was an uncapped season and under the CBA rules that were agreed to by the NFL and the NFLPA, the owners were not required to contribute to the fund.”

For the complete story, click here.

Statement from NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash:

“We are pleased now to have received a reply to the comprehensive proposal that we made eight days ago. The points made in the players’ letter are precisely the kind of points that collective bargaining is intended to address.  Debating the merits of the offer in this fashion is what collective bargaining is all about. But we would note that three facts we have consistently identified over the past week are ignored and we therefore assume acknowledged. First, the proposal called for player costs of between $19 and $20 billion over the next four seasons; second, the player cost figure in 2011 was above the actual cash spending for 2009 and 2010; and third, the economic offer, combined with other elements of the proposal, was a substantial move by the clubs to keep negotiations going and avoid a work stoppage and related litigation.

“This letter again proves that the most sensible step for everyone is to get back to bargaining. So we again accept Mike Vrabel’s suggestion that the union’s executive committee meet with our negotiating team, including Jerry Richardson, Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, to resume bargaining. If Mike will let us know when and where he and his colleagues would like to meet, we will be there. We are ready.”