Bob Batterman, negotiator for NFL, says he wants a labor deal, not a lockout
Sunday, November 21, 2010; 12:29 AM
NEW YORK - As Bob Batterman sits in his office 26 stories above Broadway, nothing about him seems particularly menacing. He is dressed in a sweater and slacks and talks calmly about the labor issues he and the NFL are facing. He mixes in a story about juggling a hearing on a significant NHL legal matter last summer with picking up his grandchild at Logan Airport in Boston during a family vacation. He tells of going to law school with Paul Tagliabue and sharing an office with David Stern as a young attorney.
There is more rancor when Batterman's name is brought up to some people in the NFL Players Association. Batterman is a prominent labor lawyer who represents the NHL and was involved in the negotiations that led to that sport's lockout in 2004 and 2005, which canceled an entire season.
Some of those associated with the football players' union portray the hiring of Batterman by the NFL's franchise owners three years ago as one of the signals that the league was more likely to seek a labor confrontation with the players next year than to participate in a peaceful round of bargaining.
"The players are acutely aware of his history and they know why the owners hired him," said George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs.
Batterman calls that portrayal inaccurate.
"I have been very amused by the advertising," Batterman said during an interview last month at the New York offices of his firm, Proskauer Rose. "I've been with this firm for 44 years. I've been in the labor practice for 43 of those 44 years. . . . We have to work with and live with unions, not bust unions."
Batterman is a critical behind-the-scenes figure in a set of NFL labor negotiations that could produce the sport's first work stoppage since strikes by the players in 1982 and '87.
This round of bargaining is different not only because of the issues under negotiation, but also because there is a new cast of characters that includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director. They're negotiating their first labor deal since Goodell succeeded Tagliabue, who retired as NFL commissioner in 2006, and Smith was elected last year to replace the union's late executive director, Gene Upshaw.
Preferring successful talks
Batterman was hired as an outside labor counsel to the NFL in 2007. He also has represented Major League Soccer, and believes his bargaining record demonstrates that he prefers a successful negotiation to a labor conflict.
"I have been a negotiator of hundreds of collective bargaining agreements over the 40 years," Batterman said. "Of those hundreds, I could count on one hand, I think, the number of strikes. And if I'm not mistaken, and I've thought about this, two lockouts. Two-the NHL in '94 and the NHL in 2004. That's it. . . . You try to be a problem-solver, a deal-maker. That's how I make my living."
But the union remains convinced the owners are readying for a lockout.
"As DeMaurice Smith has said, the union has believed for some time the owners are headed toward a lockout," said Jeffrey Kessler, an outside attorney who works for the union. "I'm depressed that we're getting toward the deadline and so little progress has been made," he said, referring to the March 4 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.