The clock is running out on yet another negotiating window for owners and athletes to see if both sides can avoid the next labor stoppage in one of the three major professional sports - this time, basketball.
Labor and law professor Michael LeRoy is an expert in collective bargaining and the author of a legal casebook titled "Collective Bargaining in Sports and Entertainment." He discusses the looming NBA lockout in an interview with News Bureau Business and Law Editor Phil Ciciora.
How do you foresee the NBA labor situation playing itself out?
The early phase appears to be playing out like the negotiations in the NFL. Formal collective bargaining will continue until June 30 or after - after which it is reported that owners will impose what is called a "bargaining lockout." This is a strike in reverse - a work stoppage initiated by employers to support their bargaining demands. The players have reportedly approved an action to decertify their union, if such a lockout occurs. This would give individual players standing to sue in antitrust court, just like NFL players did last spring.
Is there a common thread between the NFL and NBA labor situations?
There is a lot in common. Both sports have labor agreements expiring within a few months of each other. This is probably not accidental. Antitrust courts have been heavily involved in both sports, helping the players and owners negotiate settlements. In a perverse way, it makes sense to coordinate the end of these labor agreements because the first set of antitrust rulings in one sport will almost inevitably influence the bargaining in the other sport.
Second, in both sports, owners are taking it to the players by seeking significant concessions. Third, in both sports, owners are experiencing financial difficulties, and feel it is time for a new paradigm in a labor agreement.
The NBA's popularity has been declining since the Michael Jordan era. How badly would a lockout next season hurt the game, from both a popularity and financial standpoint?
Research shows that parties often underestimate the costs of a strike or a lockout. Employers and unions alike anticipate lost business or wages - but again, the research shows that they often miscalculate. The owners think they can get a better deal with a lockout, and maybe they are right. If a work stoppage lasts too long, they can do long-term harm to their bottom line. That happened to Major League Baseball in 1994.