George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, announced Wednesday that he will oversee negotiations between the NBA and the NBA Players Association. Those meetings will start next Tuesday in New York.
Cohen said he already has been in contact with representatives of both sides “for a number of months.”
“I have participated in separate, informal, off-the-record discussions with the principals representing the NBA and the NBPA concerning the status of their collective bargaining negotiations,” Cohen said in a statement issued by the Washington-based FMCS.
“It is evident that the ongoing dispute will result in a serious impact, not only upon the parties directly involved, but also, of major concern, on interstate commerce — i.e., the employers and working men and women who provide services related to the basketball games, and, more generally, on the economy of every city in which those games are scheduled to be played.”
Cohen was present for talks between NFL owners and players for 16 days in February and March but couldn’t bring them to agreement. When that mediation broke off March 11, the union disbanded, players sued owners in federal court, and the league locked out players.
After negotiations resumed later — including with a different, court-appointed mediator — a new NFL collective bargaining agreement was completed and signed in August.
The NBA’s labor talks stalled Monday, and the league announced it was calling off the first two weeks of its regular season, which was supposed to begin on Nov. 1.
The preseason was wiped out earlier.
Cohen was appointed director of the FMCS, an independent U.S. government agency, by President Barack Obama in 2009. The next year, Cohen helped broker a deal between Major League Soccer and its players just before the season was scheduled to begin, earning kudos from both the commissioner and players’ union.
As a labor lawyer, Cohen played a key role in ending the most notorious professional sports work stoppage in U.S. history, the baseball strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series. In 1995, as lead lawyer for the baseball players’ union, he helped win an injunction against the sport’s owners from U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor — who is now a Supreme Court justice — ending the 7½-month strike.