Sides in NHL labor fight meet with mediator
NEW YORK — A federal mediator held over 12 hours of separate talks with the NHL and the players’ association Friday before stopping for the night with a promise to get going again in the morning.
The sides remained apart all day, buffered by the presence of federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, who shuttled back and forth between the hotel where the union is working, and the league office. He started at 10 a.m. and wrapped up discussions for the day shortly before 11 p.m.
Similar talks were scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
It still isn’t known when the league and the union will get back together at the bargaining table. Neither side provided details, but the all-day discussions at least provided a glimmer of hope that perhaps progress was being made from afar.
That would be a welcome change after things cooled during an unproductive Thursday.
After marathon talks that lasted deep into Wednesday night, the sides have remained apart with the exception of two smaller meetings Thursday.
The lockout reached its 111th day Friday, and the sides have only one week to reach a deal on a collective bargaining agreement that would allow for a 48-game hockey season — the minimum the NHL has said it will play.
Commissioner Gary Bettman set a Jan. 11 deadline so the season can begin eight days later.
The players could be looking to wait until Saturday night to return to the bargaining table when it is expected that the executive board will again have the authority to exercise a disclaimer of interest that would allow the union to dissolve and become a trade association.
A vote among union members was initiated Thursday, and players have until 6 p.m. Saturday to cast their ballots that would allow the board to take the action of the disclaimer. An earlier vote passed overwhelmingly last month, but the union let its self-imposed deadline to go by Wednesday night without acting.
A restoration of authority to go the route of the disclaimer might be the leverage the union wants before it starts negotiating again.
Representatives from the league and the union met twice Thursday for small meetings, one dealing with the pension plan, but never got together for a full bargaining session. A long night of discussions Wednesday that stretched into the early morning hours didn’t end well and created Thursday’s lack of activity.
The sides can’t afford many more days like that.
All games through Jan. 14, along with the All-Star Game, have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.
The talks appeared to take a downward turn late Wednesday after the players’ association passed on declaring a disclaimer of interest.
The discord carried over to Thursday when Bettman had said he expected to resume negotiations at 10 a.m. at the request of the mediator. But the union was holding internal meetings then and didn’t arrive at the league office until a few hours later.
When players and staff did get there, they did so without executive director Donald Fehr.
The wait for more elaborate talks went on, and didn’t end until the players returned — again without Fehr — for a meeting about the pension plan. That one lasted just under two hours, and again the waiting game ensued.
But this time there wouldn’t be any more talks, big or little. Neither side issued a statement, and Bettman was seen leaving league headquarters shortly after 9 p.m.
The players’ association held a late Thursday afternoon conference call to initiate its second vote regarding the disclaimer of interest. It wasn’t immediately known when a new authorization would expire if the vote passes again.
A sense of progress might be why the union didn’t declare the disclaimer on Wednesday, but any optimism created after the deadline passed took several hits Thursday.