June 17, 2024

Judge Returns Players and N.F.L. to Mediation

Judge Susan Richard Nelson of United States District Court, who heard arguments last week in the players’ request for an injunction to stop the lockout, appointed Arthur J. Boylan, the chief federal magistrate judge in Minneapolis, as the mediator.

That is a loss for the league, which had hoped to return to George Cohen, who is the head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and oversaw 17 days of mediated negotiations before talks broke off March 11. Owners did not want negotiations conducted the way Nelson ordered because a potential deal could be overseen by the court, something they wanted to avoid.

The players had asked Nelson to have mediation in Minneapolis. They thought that Cohen was ineffective and that a return to him would create the appearance they were again operating as a union after their decision to decertify.

Representatives for the players will meet with Boylan on Tuesday; representatives of the league will meet with him Wednesday. The two sides will meet with him together for the start of formal mediation on Thursday. Nelson’s order said all communication during the mediation would remain confidential.

The players and the owners declined comment on the decision.

It is unclear how long Boylan’s efforts will last. At last Wednesday’s hearing Nelson said that it would take her a couple of weeks to decide on the injunction request, and in her order on Monday, she said that the mediation would not have the impact of a stay on the litigation and that she would issue an order “in due course.”

That means she could issue her order as soon as the middle of next week, giving Boylan’s talks just a few days to produce progress. Nelson could hold off on her ruling if she and Boylan think progress is being made.

Though Nelson can order the sides to talk, she cannot order them to agree. Boylan will have the power of Nelson behind him, but the process does not have the effect of binding arbitration.

There is little hope that this round of talks will lead to an agreement at least until Nelson issues her decision on the injunction and the appeal is decided by the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Nelson made several comments from the bench Wednesday that seemed to indicate she had accepted some of the players’ arguments, particularly those based on earlier decisions made by Judge David Doty, but it is the appeal that will ultimately swing leverage in negotiations to one side or the other.

The league probably views the Court of Appeals, loaded with appointees of Republican presidents and viewed as one of the most conservative courts in the country, to be more favorable to businesses.

Players emerged from Wednesday’s hearing feeling confident, but Nelson made a point that both sides were at risk.

Still, players would seem to have greater leverage now — with the threat that Nelson will grant the injunction to stop the lockout — which they may risk if they remain in court. If they win the appeal, they will have even greater leverage. If they lose the appeal, their leverage will be gone.

Nelson’s order also noted that the parties’ participation in mediation and anything said during mediation could not be used against the parties in the future.

That should assuage concerns by players that going back to the bargaining table may undermine their argument that the decertification of the union was real and not a bargaining tactic, as the league has alleged in a charge to the National Labor Relations Board.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bde7f276fffc99f2c4b7dce5247bc3ed

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