Bargaining Power: The Strength of the NBPA

A lot can be said about the NBA lockout and the negotiations which have ensued in an attempt to end it and bring a basketball season to millions of fans.

However, one thing is certain:  The NBPA is a strong union.

The NBA lockout has persisted since July 1, 2011–nearly four months.  In the course of that time, both sides have met numerous times in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.  However, each time, they’ve come up short in accomplishing that goal.

Both the NBA and NBPA point their fingers at the other for being the protagonist in this drama which has already cut the NBA season short by two weeks.  The source of this finger-pointing is the various hard issues upon which the parties are unwilling to break from their bargaining stance.  The players clearly want more than 50 percent of basketball related income, which to date, the league has not offered.  It does not appear that the NBA is willing to grant the players 50 percent or more of basketball related income, unless the players make concessions in other arenas, such as the salary cap.

While there are many issues for the parties to sort through, the NBPA has remained a collective force throughout the negotiations.

Thinking back over the course of the past four months, one is hard-pressed to think of any NBA player who has publicly questioned the actions or strategy of the NBPA in attempting to end the lockout and negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.  Additionally, save for a few players who have sought employment which largely differs from their typical profession, it appears that the  NBPA adequately advised the players over the previous few seasons as to how to save money in preparation for the financial difficulties a lockout would present.  Throughout the course of the lockout, very few players have publicly stated that the lockout has caused them financial difficulties, or they have found basketball-related positions.

That the NBPA has maintained solidarity over the past four months and has well-positioned its players financially in preparation of the lockout, increases the strength of its bargaining power.

As noted above, at least the first two weeks of the NBA season have been canceled.  Hence, the players have effectively lost the portion of their salary attributed to those two weeks, unless the NBA chooses to extend the season at a later date.  The NBA likely believed that in canceling the first two weeks of the season, it would cause the NBPA to cave and come off of some of its bargaining positions.

However, that clearly did not happen.  Last week, both parties met with a federal mediator for over 30 hours without reaching an agreement.  This week, they’ve met once with similar results.

While the players are clearly losing money due to 100 NBA games being canceled, they are not moving away from their bargaining position, because they were well prepared to lose that money.  If you talk to anyone familiar with NBA players, nearly all of them knew that this day was coming and most worked with financial planners to prepare for it.  Thus, by preparing its players in this way, the NBPA took one chip off of the NBA’s table.

Furthermore, by promoting solidarity, the NBPA remains a strong force at the negotiation table.  There are not fractions of players who are publicly calling for the NBPA to be decertified as a union.  Such calls for decertification understandably undermine the negotiating power of the union.  Rather, the only calls for decertification have been made by player’s agents who stand to lose a large chunk of money if the entire season is not played.

Likewise, there are not any players who are vocalizing concern of the NBPA’s negotiation strategy in public.  This similarly benefits the union, as the league understands that it is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with all of its players.  Thus, the league must make offers which benefit the Kobe’s and LeBron’s to the sixth man on the bench.

Throughout its history, the NBPA has never decertified.  This history signals to the NBA that if it wants a new collective bargaining agreement, it is going to have to negotiate it directly with the players through their union representatives and not through court proceedings spurred by antitrust action.

Ultimately, remaining unified as a union may best serve the needs of the players now and in the future, as it sets a precedent that the NBPA is a union which will not crumble in the face of labor adversity.  Although fans would prefer that the NBPA take whatever course grants resolution the quickest and presents an NBA season the soonest, by sticking to its current negotiating path, the NBPA is setting a standard that the league must negotiate with it fully and fairly now and in the future.

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