The National Football League Players Association and the NFL owners agreed on Thursday to sit down with the Federal Mediation and Concilliation Service, an independent U.S. government agency, in an effort to mediate their dispute. They've scheduled seven consecutive days of negotiations, beginning today.
"Any time that both sides of negotiations can get together, whether through conventional means of bargaining or mediation, to come to an agreement that can benefit all parties, it is a good thing," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
Whether this is just another PR ploy remains to be seen, but at least the two sides are talking after having nothing but icy silence for each other the last week. We've heard quite often how the two sides are acting like a couple getting a divorce. Well, now they've at least agreed to see a marriage counselor.
George H. Cohen, the director of the FMCS, can make suggestions and recommendations but he has no power to impose a deal between the two sides. For those of us who still maintain a positive outlook on the labor dispute, the good news is that he said he met with both sides independently, and they both accepted his invitation to enter mediation.
"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement. At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices in Washington, D.C. commencing Friday, February 18."
FCMS describes their work in collective bargaining mediation as follows:
In collective bargaining mediation, FMCS mediators are in touch with both parties even before negotiations actually begin. The contact is triggered by the legally-required notice of intent to open a collective bargaining agreement.
During negotiations, effective mediators use knowledge of the parties and issues "on the table" to guide negotiators through potential deadlocks to a settlement which both sides can accept.
Mediators may make suggestions and offer procedural or substantive recommendations with the agreement of both parties. However, they have no authority to impose settlements. Their only tool is the power of persuasion.
The mediators' effectiveness derives from their acceptability to both parties, their broad knowledge, experience in the process of collective bargaining, and their status as respected neutrals.
Mediation beats not talking. But whether it is going to be effective is a totally different matter. At the very least, it is a signal that the two sides are feeling the pressure to at least maintain the public appearance of negotiation. And perhaps it's more, a signal that the two sides are indeed interested in getting this revolved quickly, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.
Seven consecutive days of mediation sounds like a lot, but whether they will be conducted in good faith or are just a PR stunt remains to be seen. One easy way to tell: as soon as stories appear quoting "sources close to the negotiations" disparaging one or the other side, you know you won't be able to expect much from these talks. That could be as early as tonight.