By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 9:55 PM
The NFL's outside labor attorney said Wednesday he believes the leaders of the NFL Players Association want team owners to lock out players when the sport's labor contract expires in March.
Bob Batterman, a New York-based lawyer for the league, said he thinks the union's leadership is focused on litigation strategies and lobbying on Capitol Hill rather than attempting to negotiate a labor settlement with franchise owners.
"If you want to litigate, if you want to get Congress involved, you want a lockout to occur and you want the clock to run out [on negotiations] so your decertification and litigation strategy can come into play," Batterman said in a telephone interview. "This is not a union eager to avoid a lockout.
"This is a union waiting for a lockout to occur."
The current labor deal expires in March. Players and union leaders have said they expect owners to lock out players after the deal expires. They have accused the owners of planning a lockout for several years while also seeking unfair concessions from the players at the bargaining table.
Owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have said the league wants to reach a settlement with the players that solves what they call the sport's economic problems. The owners voted in 2008 to exercise a reopener clause and end the current labor deal, completed in 2006, two years early.
George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, said that Batterman's comments "come from the person that effectuated a year-long lockout for the NHL. These comments are irrelevant to the process. The owners will either let the players play or give us a good reason why they can't."
Batterman was an outside labor attorney for the NHL during its lockout of 2004 and 2005 that led to the cancellation of the entire season.
Atallah also renewed the union's call for more financial information from the owners.
"Batterman is a partner at a firm that represents the NBA in their collective bargaining negotiations," Atallah said.
"If audited financials are good enough for basketball, why are they none of the NFL players' business?"
Batterman declined to say Wednesday whether owners will initiate a lockout in March, barring significant progress in bargaining by then.
"I don't think I want to get into disclosing what we will do," Batterman said. "Our options are to lock out or not lock out. A lockout does not have to begin on the first day after expiration."
The players could attempt to avoid a lockout by decertifying the union, a maneuver that could expose owners to an antitrust lawsuit by them. Experts have said the owners would be unlikely to lock out players if the union is decertified.
A settlement by early March remains possible, Batterman said, if both sides are intent upon reaching a deal.
"There is time if there were two things-a serious partner who wanted to get a deal done by March 3, and I have serious doubts about that, and if we spent serious time getting it done," Batterman said.
"It's do-able if there were a desire to reach a serious compromise. Without that, it doesn't matter if there's 50 days or 500 days."
Batterman also said: "The fact that we're 50 days or whatever from expiration is almost irrelevant. I don't think there's a desire on the union's part to use those days constructively."