WASHINGTON (AP) The NFL and its players’ union met before a federal mediator for the third consecutive day on Sunday, trying to find common ground for a new labor deal before the current one expires.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith arrived for Sunday’s session at about 10 a.m. Neither would comment on the talks.
Various lawyers and other members of both negotiating teams showed up earlier at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office building. George Cohen, the director of that U.S. government agency, has been mediating the talks.
“We are working hard, and we’re following the director’s playbook, and we’ll see what we come up with,” said Jeff Pash, the NFL’s lead labor negotiator.
He walked in with Bob Batterman, an outside lawyer for the NFL who was working for the NHL when it lost its entire 2004-05 season to a lockout.
Lawyers Jeffrey Kessler and Richard Berthelsen, current players Tony Richardson of the New York Jets and Charlie Batch of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and former player Pete Kendall were among those representing the union Sunday. They began arriving before 9 a.m.
The sides met for about six hours on both Friday and Saturday. Cohen announced Thursday the groups agreed to the mediation, which is not binding but is meant as a way to initiate progress in the slow and sometimes contentious bargaining. He also asked the groups – and they agreed – not to comment publicly on the process.
The plan calls for several days of negotiations with Cohen present.
The current collective bargaining agreement runs out at the end of the day March 3. The players believe that team owners are preparing to lock them out as soon as the following day, which could threaten the 2011 season.
While it’s not clear what, if any progress, is being made in the latest round of talks, the mediation could be seen as a positive sign after several months of infrequent negotiations – and frequent rhetoric, including charges from each side that the other was hoping for a work stoppage.
The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until 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.
The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; a rookie wage scale; and benefits for retired players.