By Brian Hanley-
(CBS) Where there is a will there is a way.
Can’t say that sentiment was with me when I awoke in the wee hours from a quick, albeit uncomfortable, nap on the floor under a conference room table in the Apparel Mart Holiday Inn one November morning some eight years ago.
Lack of sound sleep was the least of my concerns then. As part of the Chicago Newspaper Guild’s Sun-Times negotiating team, a group charged with getting the best contract possible from the newspaper’s management, stress was a constant companion during contentious talks which began five months prior.
It was the same ownership which had cried poor for years, as evident by the 2.25 percent raise divided over the previous three-year contract, all the while some of their group was whisking away tens of millions of the company’s cash through what would be found to be a criminal conspiracy.
Those memories have been rekindled as I read the daily status reports of the NBA’s negotiations. Wednesday will be the league’s D-Day, according to commissioner David Stern.
His strident stand that the current offer is the owners’ best, and will be drastically reduced beginning Thursday, has enough hot air in it to float a Benny the Bulls inflatable around the United Center for an entire season.
Yet the posturing by Stern has only served to make the union’s leadership sweat. Whether you are representing NBA players making on average $5.5 million per year, or journalists trying to get another $150 a week in compensation, making decisions which impact so many is not easy.
Even though our Sun-Times group realized the best contract it had in 20 years–sure the three percent raises annually over three years was hardly Lotto money–our negotiating team heard from many disgruntled Guild members insisting there was more money to be had.
Maybe true, but at what cost? We were past our strike deadline and the thought of taking everyone out on the street for anywhere from a day to who knows how long for the possibility of another one or two percent salary increase was a risk we, as negotiators, chose not to take.
So we agreed to bring the offer to our members. Our will, but by majority vote, eventually their way.
Yahoo reported Tuesday Stern was willing to again meet with the union leaders with the possibility of relenting on some systems issues such as the luxury tax and salary exceptions players deem important.
Nevertheless, union executive director Billy Hunter was unsure late Monday whether he wanted to meet with Stern.
Hunter needs to meet with Stern.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
“We need for the two sides to get together again before Wednesday, because we’re too close to getting a deal done,” Kobe Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “We need to iron out the last of the last system items and save this from spiraling into a nuclear winter.”
Kobe’s right. Talking to each other is the only way to get a deal done. Even if the conversation starts with Hunter telling Stern to stick to his threat that at 4 p.m. today the league will return to its hardline of a 53-percent revenue split, hard salary cap, and contract rollbacks for players. That trifecta will lead to a certain court case after the union decertifies.
No NBA for a year. Maybe longer.
Remarkably, that seems to be the will of some owners.
Yahoo! Sports reported that some hardliners wanted Stern to tell the union they had only Saturday to consider what looks like a 49 (union) to 51 (owners) revenue split but were talked out of it.
Hunter, who has dropped from the union’s previous 57-percent take, would likely go for 50-50 with some sweeteners for the players.
To be clear, Stern doesn’t have the authority he once wielded when it came to labor talks.
“There’s an intense feeling among the teams who are not on the labor committee as to how a 50-50 deal doesn’t fix the economic model,” the ownership source told Yahoo. “They’re adamant that 50-50 is too high and that the labor committee should’ve never gone that high. Stern wouldn’t be able to overcome such strong and wide resistance however much he tries to lead there.”
Bet a couple nights napping on the floor under a conference room table at a Holiday Inn Express would make those owners smarter.
Brian Hanley co-hosts The Mully and Hanley Show, weekdays, 5am-9am, on 670 The Score and 670thescore.com