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NFL: AFL-CIO Can’t Be Neutral Mediator

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(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The president of the AFL-CIO is offering to mediate the NFL’s labor negotiations. The league has a very basic problem with that: The head of the NFL Players Association sits on the executive council of the AFL-CIO, a labor union federation.

In a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he could sit down with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith to work on the parameters for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The current CBA expires in March, and Smith contends league owners are preparing to lock out the players before the start of next season. The sides held their most recent negotiations Tuesday in Washington.

“I would like to invite you both to meet with me to discuss how an agreement might be reached,” Trumka’s letter reads. “I believe such a meeting would be an immediate and important step toward saving football for the 2011 season and avoiding the significant job losses that will occur if owners lock out the players and cancel games.”

Not surprisingly, the NFL was not receptive to Trumka’s proposal.

“No one would suggest that the owner of an NFL club or a member of its board could serve as an effective, neutral mediator. The same is true of the leader of the AFL-CIO. The NFL Players Association is itself a member of the AFL-CIO and the head of the NFLPA sits on the AFL-CIO’s board,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote Thursday in an e-mail to the AP.

Perhaps even less surprisingly, the union took a different stance.

“We welcome the AFL-CIO’s initiative and accept Mr. Trumka’s invitation,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah wrote in an e-mail.

Trumka’s letter went to NFL owners, mayors of NFL cities and governors of states that have NFL teams.

Two weeks ago, Trumka sent another letter to all 32 team owners, warning that a lockout could cost thousands of Americans their jobs and cities more than $140 million in revenue.

In Trumka’s latest letter, he asked Goodell to provide profit or loss statements and operating expenses of NFL teams in addition to other financial details that would justify a reduction in benefits to the players or the necessity for a lockout. The NFLPA has been seeking team financial statements for months.

Trumka also asked Smith to provide details about player salaries, pensions and health care benefits, saying that it was essential that all of the information be available for a “fair and productive” meeting.

“I believe that a productive meeting and a production of the relevant financial information will be useful in helping to avoid a work stoppage that would impact thousands of jobs nationwide,” Trumka wrote in the most recent letter, sent Monday. “Now is the time for the NFL and the NFL Players Association to demonstrate their commitment to reaching a fair settlement.”

Smith has continued to insist the league is headed toward a lockout, in part because the television networks will continue to pay the owners next season regardless of whether the games are played.

Goodell points out that eventually owners will have to pay that money back if the games are canceled.

In Indianapolis, which is scheduled to host its first Super Bowl after the 2011 season, local organizers have said league officials are urging them to be ready for the game to be played, as scheduled, on Feb. 5, 2012.

The biggest point of contention, of course, is money.

Players currently receive 59.6 percent of designated NFL revenues, a number agreed to in 2006. The owners say that’s too much, arguing they have huge debts from building stadiums and starting up the NFL Network and other ventures, making it impossible to be profitable.

But money isn’t the only issue.

On Tuesday, for example, the owners presented their first detailed proposal for extending the regular season from 16 games to 18.

The AFL-CIO says all it wants to do is help.

“Millions of our hard-working members love professional football, and a great many of them also rely upon the game for their economic health,” Trumka wrote. “We stand ready to assist in reaching a collectively-bargained solution.”

AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.

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