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Sides in NHL labor rift meet all day with mediator
The talks appeared to take a downward turn late Wednesday after the players’ association passed on declaring a disclaimer of interest.
The discord carried over to Thursday when Bettman had said he expected to resume negotiations at 10 a.m. at the request of the mediator. But the union was holding internal meetings then and didn’t arrive at the league office until a few hours later.
When players and staff did get there, they did so without executive director Donald Fehr. The group discussed a problem that arose regarding the reporting by clubs of hockey-related revenue, and how both sides sign off on the figures at the end of the fiscal year. The union felt the language had been changed without proper notification, but the dispute was solved and the meeting ended in about an hour.
The wait for more elaborate talks went on, and didn’t end until the players returned _ again without Fehr _ for a meeting about the pension plan. That one lasted just under two hours, and again the waiting game ensued.
But this time there wouldn’t be any more talks, big or little. Neither side issued a statement, and Bettman was seen leaving league headquarters shortly after 9 p.m.
The players’ association held a late Thursday afternoon conference call to initiate its second vote regarding the disclaimer of interest. It wasn’t immediately known when a new authorization would expire if the vote passes again.
A sense of progress might be why the union didn’t declare the disclaimer on Wednesday, but any optimism created after the deadline passed took several hits Thursday.
The NHLPA filed a motion in federal court in New York seeking to dismiss the league’s suit to have the lockout declared legal. The NHL sued the union in mid-December, figuring the players were about to submit their own complaint against the league and possibly break up their union to gain an upper hand.
But the union argued that the NHL is using this suit “to force the players to remain in a union. Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under … the National Labor Relations Act.”
The court scheduled a status conference for the sides Monday.
The sides have traded four proposals in the past week _ two by each side _ but none has gained enough traction. Getting an agreement on a pension plan would likely go a long way toward an agreement that would put hockey back on the ice.
Fehr believed a plan for players-funded pension was established before talks blew up in early December. That apparently wasn’t the case, or the NHL has changed its offer regarding the pension in exchange for agreeing to other things the union wanted.
The salary-cap number for the second year of the deal _ the 2013-14 season _ hasn’t been agreed to, and it is another major point of contention. The league is pushing for a $60 million cap, while the union wants it to be $65 million with a floor of $44 million.
In return for the higher cap number players would be willing to forgo a cap on escrow.
Both sides seem content on the deal lasting for 10 years, but they have different opinions on whether an opt-out should be allowed to be exercised after seven years or eight.
By Bob Dole
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