Monday, November 26, 2012
Things to know about George Cohen
By Henry Abbott
He is highly respected: The two sides of a labor dispute agree on little in public, but nobody will say anything negative about George Cohen. When he mediates, he usually comes up with a deal, although sports impasses are trickier and he was already out of recent NFL and NBA talks before a deal was reached.
The days will be long: The NBA had its longest days of mediation when Cohen got involved. There is a practical reason for that -- the process calls for the the two sides to be separated much of the time, with Cohen shuttling back and forth between them. Progress is slow. However, Cohen is said to have a deliberate tactic of making the days long to make clear that everyone means business, to minimize distractions from interested parties not in the room and to wear down those opposing a deal. After bargaining until 3 a.m. repeatedly, people tend to soften.
Did it help?: In the case of the NBA, the talks were in dire straits by the middle of October. The league already had announced the cancellation of a swath of games -- the regular season normally begins around Halloween. Cohen first met with the two parties Oct. 17, at a time when real progress had been stalled for weeks. The sides met for about 30 hours during three days. During most of that time, both sides hinted at progress. But on Oct. 20, the mediation blew apart as the sides said they were deadlocked on two key items: the nature of the new "system" and the finances. All parties -- the union, league and mediator -- agreed the mediation had run its course.
What happened after mediation in the NBA: In the weeks that followed the mediation breakdown, the players' union played its last ace, starting the process of decertifying itself by disclaimer. They brought in attorney David Boies, who filed a class action lawsuit against the owners. Although the league and owners professed no fear whatsoever of the legal maneuver, one possible outcome was that a judge would order the owners to pay the players treble damages, potentially billions of dollars. The lawsuit was filed in mid-November. Talks quietly began anew a few days later, and a deal was struck at a meeting that began on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The NBA was back in business by Christmas.