NFL, union to resume labor talks
The contentious NFL labor negotiations went in front of a federal mediator Friday, two weeks before owners could impose a lockout on players and threaten the 2011 season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, players’ union executive director DeMaurice Smith and their bargaining teams arrived at the Washington office of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service shortly before 11 a.m. It was not known how long the meeting would last.
Goodell was accompanied by NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman and the league’s lead labor negotiator, Jeff Pash. No team owners were seen entering the building. About 15 minutes after Goodell showed up, Smith walked in, joined by union lawyer Richard Berthelsen, Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch and former player Jim McFarland, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee.
Goodell and Smith declined comment on their way into the meeting with George H. Cohen, the director of the FMCS, an independent U.S. government agency.
“We’re going to participate fully, and we look forward to working with Mr. Cohen,” Pash told The Associated Press.
Asked what progress he expects to come from mediation, Pash replied: “We don’t know.”
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said: “We’re not going to make any comments or talk about what happens in today’s negotiating session.”
More than two hours later, Atallah and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted a joint statement saying the mediation process has begun and both sides agreed to Cohen’s request not to make any public comment.
Cohen announced Thursday that both sides had agreed to have him participate in talks. Mediation is not binding.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the day March 3, and the union has said it expects a lockout to come as soon as the next day.
News of the start of mediation could be a positive sign after several months of infrequent negotiations.
The league and union went more than two months without holding any formal bargaining sessions, until a meeting Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once last week but called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.
The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.