NBA Players Voting Toward Union Decertification

NBA players are voting to hold a vote to disband the union before the current agreement with the league expires to hold the league to antitrust laws instead of laws.

nba lockout.jpg

I prefer to keep these spaces with analysis of stuff on the court and
fun stuff away from it, but didn't want to just put a line and a link in
a "Catch n' Shoot" on this.

NBA players are voting on whether to vote to "authorize decertification" of their union, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), Howard Beck reported Monday at The New York Times,
to prevent a lockout and give individuals more bargaining power against
owners and the league in the courts using antitrust law instead of
labor law.

Two teams have reportedly already voted unanimously to
do so. "More teams will be voting in the coming weeks," Beck reported.
"If a majority of players agree, it will give union leaders added
leverage in collective bargaining talks."

A vote to disband the union wouldn't occur until right before the current collective bargaining agreement expires in June.

As for what this would specifically mean for the prospects of negotiations, Beck added:

Gabriel Feldman, a law professor at Tulane and director of the school's
sports law program, called decertification a "doomsday scenario." The
real value of the vote is the threat it represents.

"It's their nuclear weapon," Feldman said. "If you have to use the
nuclear weapon, then you've really reached a bad spot."

He added: "The goal here would not be to use the weapon. The goal is
just to be prepared in case you need it down the road."

Decertifying the union would prevent a lockout, but at great risk. The
league would be able to impose work rules, and the players would be
surrendering all their union protections, as well as the benefits they
have won in the past, such as minimum contracts, guaranteed salaries and
their pension.

Once the union was disbanded, the players would be able to sue the
owners under antitrust laws and challenge the league's restrictions on
salaries and player movement. Without a collectively bargained contract,
those rules would be considered illegal restraints of trade.

The real value of the decertification vote is to provide players more
leverage at the bargaining table, where talks have been stalled for
months.

[...]

Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports and Entertainment, which represents
more than 40 N.B.A. players, said he was advising his clients to vote in
favor of decertification. He expected a unanimous vote.

"It's not something anybody really wants to do," Bartelstein said, "but you've got to keep the option available to you."

By abandoning their union, the players would effectively be choosing the
protections provided by antitrust law over those provided by labor law.
Legally, they cannot claim both, according to Feldman.

The owners would probably challenge the move in court by arguing that
the decertification "is a sham" and "that the union still exists, that
it's still representing the players and that the players are trying to
get the benefits of labor law and antitrust law at the same time,"
Feldman said.

That is why the union must tread carefully now and avoid the appearance
that decertification is intended only as a bargaining strategy.

Weeks ago, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter told Beck: "I'd be 99 percent sure as of today that there will be a lockout.

NBPA president Derek Fisher and vice president Theo Ratliff, both of the L.A. Lakers, are attempting to gather as many players as possible in L.A. during All-Star Weekend in February for "pivotal meetings."

"Owners are pushing for drastic changes, including a potential 38 percent rollback in player salaries, a hard salary cap and the elimination of fully guaranteed contracts," Beck's report added. The players have turned down all offers to this point.

The players countered with an offer that reportedly included two proposals already well-known: conceding to lower the guaranteed 57% of league revenue to players and a "push for increased revenue-sharing." What was discovered through a confidential source leaking details from a podcast Hunter sent to players:

  • "Enhanced trade and signing flexibility," which Hunter characterizes as "a win-win" for players and teams.

    Currently, teams that are over the salary cap must match salaries, within 125 percent, to make a trade. The union wants to roughly double the standard to 250 percent, which would, for example. allow a team to trade a player making $10 million for a player making $25 million. The idea is to make trades easier to construct, thus fostering player movement. The union also wants to eliminate "base-year compensation," an arcane rule that makes it difficult to trade players after they receive a major raise.

  • Reduce the age limit to 18.

    In 2005, with the union's agreement, the N.B.A. began requiring all incoming players to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school. The union supported the rule grudgingly and wants it changed back. Hunter is proposing instead that the N.B.A. adopt rules that "incentivize high school and college athletes to attend school." No specifics are offered, but one possibility would be to adjust the rookie wage scale to reward players who stay in school.

  • Make restricted free agency less onerous.

    Under the current rules, when a restricted free agent signs an offer sheet, his team has seven days to match it. That time period is sufficiently long that it discourages rivals from making offers. The union wants to reduce it by several days. It also wants qualifying offers -- which trigger the restricted status -- to be higher.

  • Increased revenue-sharing among the owners.

    The N.B.A. has the most meager revenue-sharing plan among the three major professional sports. The league is working on a new revenue-sharing plan, but considers it separate from collective bargaining. The union wants to negotiate the revenue sharing as part of the labor talks.

  • Shorten contracts signed under the midlevel exception, from five years to four.

    In return, the union wants to add a second midlevel exception. The additional slot (worth about $5.8 million), which can be used every year, would replace the biannual exception (worth about $2.1 million).

  • Allow major capital expenses -- like arena construction and renovation -- to be deducted from the revenue pool shared by players and owners.

    The union's intent is to address a major concern for owners -- rising costs, and how to account for them when dividing revenue -- while supporting investments that help spur growth (better arenas, for example).

  • A neutral review of on-court discipline.

    Currently, players can appeal to an arbitrator only for suspensions of 12 games or more. All other appeals of suspensions and fines go to Commissioner David Stern.

  • Increased pension benefits.

Recently, the league immediately turned down the players' proposal with no counter-offer, remaining steadfast int their earlier demands for the moment.

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