Mediator brings best of all worlds to NBA negotiations

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Mediator brings best of all worlds to NBA negotiations

Počalji  qiheitiann taj Uto Okt 18, 2011 5:23 pm

Over and over, similar words are used to describe George Cohen's role as the federal mediator in the labor dispute between the NBA and its locked-out players.
If there is any mediator in the country who can help the sides make significant progress or even reach a deal in a short time early this week, Cohen seems to be the one with the experience, knowledge, expertise and temperament, according to labor law experts who have worked with him and are familiar with his accomplishments.
"I would point out George would be as good, if not better, than anybody I've met in my lifetime discount jerseysin doing that," said Buzz Hargrove, the former president of the Canadian Auto Workers, who served with Cohen on the National Hockey League Players Association's advisory board.
Over and over those same experts issue a similar warning: Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service, is not a savior.
"There is no better mediator in the country than the head of the FMCS. He's the superstar of our profession," Northeastern law professor and sports law expert Roger Abrams said. "On the other hand, he's not a miracle worker."
With the NBA and National Basketball Players Association entrenched in their positions, and the rhetoric escalating, Cohen faces a mountainous task: disseminate each side's position, find what each is willing to concede, discover common ground and help them find a deal — or at least get them closer.
But that's where Cohen's role ends. He's a mediator, not an arbitrator who makes a ruling.
"He can devise different ways to allow each side to achieve what they can reasonably achieve in negotiations, but only if they want a deal," Abrams said.
The sides have deep philosophical differences on how to resolve the key issues: the split of basketball-related income (BRI) and the system to distribute that money to players.
•Owners seek a collective bargaining agreement that limits club spending mlb jerseys cheapto achieve profits and creates more competitive balance.
•Players oppose anything that resembles a hard salary cap and drastic reductions in salary. Although players are not against competitive balance, they do not agree with the league's suggestions for achieving it.
Cohen has Monday to meet with each side separately and Tuesday to meet with both sides together. Hardly a generous amount of time to solve a $4 billion puzzle.
In a paper presented to the International Agencies Meeting in Cardiff, Wales, in September, Cohen wrote: "Without doubt, one of the most important factors in the success of the Agency's efforts is the timing of its intervention."
He is entering late in the negotiations, and the difficulty of his job increased exponentially since Cohen confirmed Wednesday he will mediate. The bloviating from both sides is rampant.
Thursday and Friday, NBA Commissioner David Stern embarked on his North American radio and TV tour, threatening all involved with the prospect of no games until after Christmas if a deal isn't reached or progress isn't made through mediation Tuesday.
•"Deal Tuesday or we potentially spiral into situations where the worseningnhl jerseys cheap offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties to make a deal," Stern told New York's WFAN-AM.
•"Given the absolute vaporizing of 4% of our players' compensation every week, that by the end of two weeks it's going to be $170 million lost, gone forever, and then the next two weeks will come or the rest of the season. … How many times does it pay to keep meeting and have the same things thrown back at you. We're ready to sit down and make a deal. I don't believe the union is," Stern told NBATV.
The union responded Friday at its players meeting in Los Angeles withnfl jerseys from china NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter and President Derek Fisher.
Before Hunter and Fisher spoke to the media, Washington Wizards big man JaVale McGee said some players in the meeting were ready to fold but most remained united.
Hunter and Fisher had to clean up McGee's misstep, and McGee said his words were twisted.
Fisher then said Stern's Tuesday deadline for a deal or no games until after Christmas was "an arbitrary deadline to throw out on Commissioner Stern's part."
Hunter had sharp words for Stern and the owners.
"If somebody is pointing a gun at my head, I'm going cheap nfl jerseys to point one back at him," Hunter said. "The door doesn't swing one way. It's not just the players who will suffer if games are lost. What he failed to reveal to you is the amount of economic damage they're going to suffer as a consequence."
Cohen must untangle the train wreck.
President Obama appointed Cohen to the head of the FMCS in October 2009. In that role he has mediated disputes between Major League Soccer and the Major League Soccer Players Union, the NFL and NFL Players Association, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, according to the FMCS web site.
According to the FMCS 2010 fiscal report, the agency mediated 4,919 cases in 2010 and 86% of mediated cases were settled by the FMCS.
Born in 1934, Cohen went to Cornell for his bachelor and law degree, served in the Army and received his LLM at Georgetown, according to, a nonprofit for law students interested in labor law.
Cohen worked for the National Labor Relations Board and the Appellate Court Branch until 1966. From then until 2005, Cohen worked for the Washington D.C., law firm Bredhoff & Kaiser, which specializes in labor law and is known as "the voice of labor," according to its web site.
During his 40 years, Cohen argued and won five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
His work is diverse: health and safety issues, pro sports, teachers, rail industry, entertainment industry (including the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild and symphony orchestras). He also once worked for the NBPA.
In 1981, Cohen was named Labor Lawyer of the Year by American Lawyer, according to That same year, Cohen represented the Major League Baseball Players Association during that strike.
In the MLPBA's unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board that year, Cohen cross-examined baseball's labor relations chief Ray Grebey for nearly two hours and used newspaper articles to show baseball, according to Grebey's quotes, was concerned about escalating salaries and wanted to reduce them in the next CBA.
At first glance, Cohen's long association with unions, especially pro sports unions, might scare the NBA. But his reputation as a fair, unbiased mediator is not a concern.
"He's not going to bring any of his biases or his last experience into these discussions. He's dedicated to being neutral," Hargrove said.
Stanford law professor William Gould worked with Cohen at the NLRBd in the 1960s. He described Cohen as "simpatico."
"George is a great listener, very simpatico and interested in sounding one out about their opinions and views," Gould said. "He's respected by both sides, has done a lot of mediation and is quite effective. It's unusual that management would have this kind of confidence in somebody who has spent a lot of his career on one side."
Monday, Cohen will meet with each side separately, and mostly listen, Abrams said. "The most effective mediators are reflective. He's going to listen to their position, and he's someone in the room who is not going to tell the other side no," Abrams said.
After spending time with his staff, Cohen on Tuesday will try to see if he can bridge the sides.
"Every time he is involved in a case, he may not bring a resolution or an immediate resolution but he always leaves the parties better than they were before he entered," Abrams said. "That's all you can hope for from a mediator. You'd love to think a mediator is a life saver. He's not."
Abrams has been skeptical of the sides reaching a deal in time to save the season.
"No one should read USA TODAY and think, 'It's all going to be settled on Tuesday,' " Abrams said. "There are times when every business and group of employees face the potential of Armageddon. We're getting real close.
"Now, will I be surprised if on Tuesday, there's a deal? I would be both surprised and absolutely delighted. That means not that George worked miracles, but the parties needed to save face and the way to do it is by having an intermediary there and to make concessions, not to the other side, but to the mediator. But don't count on it."

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