Before joining the New York Giants in 1991, John Mara was an attorney specializing in labor and employment law and litigation. He represented both unions and management in a variety of cases.
Now, as the Giants’ president and chief executive officer, he uses that experience as a member of the NFL owners’ negotiating team for collective bargaining with the players.
Mara was asked Thursday by Mike Lupica on 1050 ESPN New York about the similarities of the two NFL player strikes in the 80s and today’s situation.
Strike or lockout, the end-game remains the same with any labor issue, says Mara.
“Labor laws give employees the right to strike, and that’s their leverage in trying to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement and those same labor laws give employers the right to lockout,” said Mara. “Again, it’s with the same end-game in mind – you want to get a collective bargaining agreement done. So it’s a different situation from ’82 and ’87 but the end-game is still the same. We want to get a deal done.”
So what’s it going to take to get a deal done? Two sides fully committed to that goal.
“I know there is willingness on our part to sit down and get a deal done,” said Mara. “But we’ve got to get the same willingness out of the players to sit down and do that.”
Following is the complete transcript:
New York Giants president John Mara
With Mike Lupica 1050 ESPN Radio-New York
May 19, 2011
The NFLPA’s key outside litigator, Jeffrey Kessler in a conference call on March 30th indicated that the NFL Draft is illegal. And you go on to say (in your Giants.com essay) that the NFLPA’s lawyers want to wipe away fundamental elements of the NFL’s appeal to advance the Draft, salary cap, franchise player designation, transition player designation and/or other player restrictions. What do you think the end-game was for the NFLPA to decertify?
It was clearly to bring the owners to their knees through this litigation process. To try to save the prospect of a huge damage award, try to get a judgment against us and try to get the lockout lifted so that they would have the upper hand in negotiating. All we want to do is sit down and negotiate a fair deal. We were willing to do that back in March. I spent two weeks in Washington with the players attempting to do that, I thought we made a good offer to them on March 11 but they chose to walk away from it and begin the litigation process. We were prepared to sit there for as long as necessary to try to come to a fair agreement but they chose to walk away and begin litigation because I think that they believe that gives them the most leverage. That’s unfortunate. So we chose to go the lockout route. It’s not one that we necessarily wanted to take, but we just wanted to come to an agreement that’s good for the game.
There is always a degree of rhetoric that rises and falls and it seems to have subsided a little bit lately. You guys had a good week in court. Is there anything that happened in the last seven days that gives you hope that things might finally be moving in the right direction?
I can’t say that there’s been a lot of progress in the negotiations. It is my hope that the recent court decision will maybe influence them to get back and negotiate. That’s all we want to do. I’ll meet with them this afternoon if they’d like to try to get something worked out. We went out to Minnesota this week. There were four owners out there and unfortunately there was only one player on Monday and another player on Tuesday. None of the named players in the lawsuit were out there. That’s a pretty tough way to get a deal done. I’m hoping that if the lockout stays in effect it will cause them to maybe want to negotiate a little more seriously. That’s all we want to do – we want to get this lockout ended and get an agreement in place where we can go back to what we do best and that’s playing football.
How much empathy is there on both sides of this for the innocent people caught in the crossfire here? I’m talking about the employees for NFL teams who get laid off. I’m talking about the ball player who is not making a lot of money, who’s not even sure right now what his rights are, who’s not even sure if he’s on an active roster right now? Do you sense that somehow that gets lost in the rhetoric and the legal posturing?
I think to a certain extent, it does. I can’t speak for the player’s side, but that’s certainly something that we’re very conscious of here, we talk about it all the time. There are a lot of players out there that don’t have teams right now that would be free agents and would be negotiating contracts right now or would have done so already had we had an agreement in place and they’re certainly getting hurt. Obviously employees that have been laid off or had their salaries cut or are on furloughs or whatever the case may be and they’re being hurt by this and it’s unfortunate because it doesn’t have to be this way. I thought there was a deal to be made back on March 11 if we had just stayed at the negotiating table and tried to get it worked out. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We still can get a deal done in plenty of time before this season starts and before we go to training camp. It just takes two sides willing to sit down and try to get it hammered out. As I’ve said many times before, we’re ready to do that.
What’s the next thing, the next deadline, the next moment where you to think progress can be made?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment. As I said, I’m willing to start this afternoon, but I know there’s a court hearing out at the 8th circuit on June 3 and they’ll issue a decision at some point shortly after that, hopefully. I hope we don’t wait that long, I’d like to be meeting in the meantime and try to get something done, but that takes two sides willing to sit down and do that.
When you start to hear about network contingency plans, is that just saber rattling on their part trying to goose you all into getting a settlement?
You’d have to ask them that. I am sure they have certain deadlines by which they have to make decisions one way or the other. That’s certainly something that we have to be concerned about. But we’re still in May and we still have time to do this. But in the meantime, we do have players out there that do not have a team. We have OTAs and minicamps that should be going on. We should be getting ready to play a football season. I’m still confident that there will be a full season because we do have time and I know there is willingness on our part to sit down and get a deal done. But we’ve got to get the same willingness out of the players to sit down and do that.
You weren’t in the same position in ’82 or 87’ but you were around it. Is there any similar vibe in May of this year as opposed to how you felt in May going into June of ’82 and ‘87, the last time we saw games disrupted by a lockout and strike?
That was prior to my time with the Giants, but that was a little bit of a different situation if I recall. If I recall correctly, the season started in ‘82 and in ‘87 before the players chose to strike. So we actually went through training camp and played a couple of games before the strike occurred, so it is quite a bit different. You know the labor laws give employees the right to strike, and that’s their leverage in trying to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement and those same labor laws give employers the right to lockout. Again, it’s with the same end-game in mind – you want to get a collective bargaining agreement done. So it’s a different situation from ’82 and ’87 but the end-game is still the same. We want to get a deal done.
How do you address the notion that football fans have a difficult time understanding how, just as the ink was dry on the last agreement, the owners hated it? I think that’s what’s tough for fans to get their minds around.
We made a mistake. No question about it and we deserve criticism for making that mistake. The players themselves have acknowledged that they made a great deal back in 2006. There were a number of us, myself included, who didn’t fully understand what we were doing back in ’06. We understood pretty quickly within about a year after that. At the end of the day we’re business men who love football and we want to get a deal done that makes sense for our businesses and that’s good for the game and allows that game to grow. There is a deal there to be made, that would be fair to both sides and allow the game to continue to grow. We just have to sit down and get to it.
Have the Giants had to furlough workers?
No, we have chosen not to do that. Every team has to make its own decisions. Every team has a different situation. We have not implemented any furloughs or layoffs or salary cuts.
You were spitting mad when you talked about the 8-8 season that felt like 2-14. You have reacted to this, on the steps quite emotionally so far. Does your level of anger continue to this day?
Yeah, I’d say it’s more frustration than anything else. I sat at the FMCS offices in Washington for two straight weeks and honestly thought that we were making some progress there and I thought that we had a chance on that final day on March 11 to at least come close to a deal and I certainly expected at the very least, a counter-offer from the players. And instead we got their declaration that they were done, they were decertifying and that they were going to court. That was very frustrating for me and I guess it showed on the steps of the FMCS offices.
If you were calling up DeMaurice Smith today and suggesting a meeting, what’s the big thing that you would say to him, what is your message at this point to a union that seems pretty dug in at this point?
My message is the same that is has been throughout this process and that’s that the owners are ready, willing and able to sit down and negotiate a fair deal. We should be doing that right now instead of wasting all this time and money in court pursuing these litigation strategies that is not going to get us anywhere, we need to be at the bargaining table.