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 50 N.B.A. Players Considering Dissolution of Union

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PostSubject: 50 N.B.A. Players Considering Dissolution of Union   Fri Nov 04, 2011 3:59 pm

Negotiations to end the N.B.A. lockout will resume Saturday amid a new threat to labor peace: a disillusioned faction of players.
About 50 players, including some All-Stars, are planning a drive to dissolve their union if talks again falter, or if the talks produce a labor deal that they deem unpalatable, according to a person who has spoken with the group.

The threat could throw a wrench into negotiations as league and union officials attempt to broker a deal, knowing that any compromise might trigger a legal battle that could last for months.

“It’s a potential threat to all,” said Gabe Feldman, the director of the sports law program at Tulane University. “It could signal the breakdown of collective bargaining talks.”

Dissolving the union, also known as decertification, would allow the players to sue the N.B.A. under federal antitrust law, and could force the owners to end the lockout. But there are many potential obstacles, both legal and otherwise, and the decertification process could take two months. By that time, the entire 2011-12 season might be lost.

The most immediate outcome of a decertification drive would be chaos, the mere threat of which could hasten a deal. Feldman said it could be “just another ploy to gain leverage” for the players and a “major weapon in collective bargaining.” But it also could make it tougher to reach a deal.

The 50-player faction is essentially demanding that the union make no more concessions. That means holding firm for a 52.5 percent share of league revenue — as the union has done so far — and rejecting any new restrictions on contracts and free agency.

If the union compromises too far in either area, it could trigger the decertification drive. The mere threat could handcuff union officials at the bargaining table. Or, in theory, it could motivate the owners to compromise to avoid legal purgatory.

If the union decertifies, its leadership would effectively be dismissed, giving the league no one to negotiate with, and no immediate possibility for a new collective bargaining agreement.

“In terms of long-term or even short-term stability of the league, it’s obviously a huge setback if they go through with it,” Feldman said. “And that’s a big if.”

Decertifying would require that 30 percent of the union — about 130 players — sign a petition, which would then trigger an election by the full membership, under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board. It would then take a simple majority to decertify.

The player faction held two cocheap nfl jerseysnference calls this week with an antitrust lawyer, on Tuesday and on Thursday, according to the person who had spoken with the group. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the effort.

It was not clear whether the players had notified the union of the effort. Union officials did not immediately return calls Thursday night.

The movement was said to be entirely player-driven, and borne of a frustration with the pace of negotiations. The players have been locked out since July 1, and a month of games have been canceled. Talks have broken off four times in the last five weeks.

N.B.A. owners want a 50-50 split of revenue and have held firm to that position. The league is also pushing to eliminate certain salary-cap exceptions for teams that exceed the luxury-tax threshold. Those cap exceptions are viewed by players and agents as critical to a vibrant free-agent market. Their elimination would also trigger the decertification drive.
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There are other obstacles. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the N.L.R.B., and the board traditionally will not consider a decertification petition while a charge is pending.

Although the owners pre-emptively sued the union to block any attempt at dissolving, it would not apply in this case, Feldman said. That lawsuit covered only “disclaimer of interest” — in which union officials initiate the dissolution. It does not cover decertification, which is initiated by the players.

“If there is a true coup of the union, then the nonunionized players have a much stronger argument that they should be entitled to bring an antitrust suit,” Feldman said.

The hope for both sides, however, is that it never reaches that stage.

The decertification effort became public just hours after union leaders held a news conference to reaffirm their unity, and to quash rumors of infighting.
Union officials met for more than three hours on Thursday, mostly to formulate their bargaining strategy but in part to address the reports. Then they met with reporters, having literally and figuratively closed ranks.
Derek Fisher, the union’s president, and Billy Hunter, its executive director, sat side by side at a conference table, flanked by five players from the executCheap NFL Jerseysive board. Rifts were denied, reports rebutted and common goals reaffirmed.

“Derek and I have an excellent relationship,” Hunter said. “The board, we’re all together. So if you’re all expecting anything other than that, you’re wasting your time.”

The character testimonials became necessary after a report alleging that Fisher had attempted to broker a private deal with Commissioner David Stern, without the union’s knowledge. The report, which cited an unnamed source, accused Fisher of making that deal for personal gain: the possibility of a future job in the league.

Fisher called the report “libelous and defamatory” and demanded a retraction. On Thursday, he was asked directly whether he had, as reported, promised Stern that he could get the union to agree to a 50-50 split of revenue. “No, I did not,” Fisher said.

Fisher said a secret deal was impossible on its face. The union president is not empowered to make unilateral decisions. The nine-man executive board must sign off on any proposed labor deal, which would then be submitted to the 30 team representatives before going to a vote of the full membership.

Conspiracy theories aside, the brutal negotiating process has strained the relationship between Fisher and Hunter. Fisher, according to people in contact with the union, believes a 50-50 arrangement could be considered, if the union wins on certain other issues. Hunter is said to be adamant about staying at 52 percent or higher.

“I’ve never attached myself to a particular percentage,” Fisher said. Hunter took a more strident stance.

“My position,” he said, “is I don’t think there should ever be a circumstance where owners make the same or more than the players.”
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