A Q&A with Art Rooney II

*Steelers President Art Rooney II is a member of the 10-man management council executive committee and was in Washington, D.C., last week as part of the ownership group negotiating with the NFLPA. Those negotiations broke down on March 11.
Q. What were your feelings coming out of the mediation session on Friday, March 11, after talks broke down between the NFL and the NFLPA?

A. I was certainly disappointed that we didn't get a deal done, and I was even more disappointed that we never got into any real bargaining. The players never really moved off their position, and looking back at the whole mediation, while there may have been a couple of points where there was progress, overall we really never made any progress. In my mind, they never really used the process to get a deal done.

Q. What was it like in the room where the mediation session was being conducted?

A. It was frustrating. There was a lot of down time, a lot of time in separate rooms. Last Friday – March 4 – when we did the extension for one week, I felt like we may have a chance to get something done. So when I went to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 9, I went down there with the idea that we were going to work hard and see if we could get something done. But we made very little progress, in fact there was very little bargaining that really even took place.

Q. What was the atmosphere in the room? You mentioned there was a lot of down time, but did it ever get heated, with finger-pointing, maybe even some raised voices?

A. It was emotional. There wasn't a lot of yelling and finger-pointing, but there was some. More than anything, it was frustrating in that there just wasn't a lot of movement. There just didn't seem to be a lot of interest on their side in getting something done and we just came away from it with the impression that this was their plan all along – to decertify and take this thing into the courts.

Q. What is your reaction to the move to decertify?

A. They've been planning this for a long time apparently. At this point it certainly seems like that has been their Plan A, and we've filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board where we ask the Board to review the decertification because we think it's a sham. We don't think that's the way collective bargaining should be done. They've done this – decertification – once before, and they came back and became a union again. We just don't think it's a legitimate bargaining tactic, and we think the NLRB will find in our favor.

Q. One of the key points the NFLPA kept bringing up throughout the process was transparency. What is your response to the union's demand for the financial disclosure it said it was seeking?

A. That was one of the strange things in the negotiations, because the previous week when that subject came up, we said – after a long time of not being willing to provide anything and really feeling like it was one of those things that wasn't going to lead to anything – then we felt like, OK, maybe if we agree to give them something and try to provide them some insight into what has happened to the teams, maybe that would lead to a breakthrough. So we offered to provide them some financial information through an auditor, we offered to go through a third party and have a third party look at the information. It was a very strange reaction. They didn't take the information, after asking for it. They said it wasn't good enough. I don't even know how you can make that judgment without accepting what was offered. Certainly we would not have been surprised if they came back after they had seen it and had questions. But they never even looked at it. To me, that was a little bit of a tip-off as to where they were really headed with this thing.

Q. Do you think the union was surprised that the owners said yes to that request for financial disclosure?

A. Maybe. Maybe they thought we would never offer anything, but it was a very strange reaction on their part to not even accept what we offered.

Q. Did you expect that mediation would continue after the owners submitted their offer on Friday, March 11?

A. Yes. We felt like we had provided a framework to continue bargaining. We felt it was a very fair offer. We offered to meet them halfway in terms of their core financial demands, and we were prepared to structure the agreement to provide that the veteran players would not take a pay cut, which they've talked about a lot. And we offered to take the 18-game season off the table for now, and that it would be something we would re-visit in two years, and then it would have to be agreed to by both sides. That 18-game season seemed to be one of the biggest issues, as far as we knew, that the players were concerned about. So taking that off the table, we felt, was a major move on our part. But it really got zero reaction. Again, they seemed to not really want to continue negotiations, and rather to get into their litigation strategy.

Q. Just to be clear, in talking about the 18 games, when you said the issue would be re-visited in two years and the union would have to approve it, the union could simply say no and that would be the end of it?

A. That's right. And under the current agreement, the one that just expired, we had the right to change the season without the players' approval. This we felt was a major concession, a major step toward their side in terms of trying to address something that they had expressed a lot of concern about. Again, for them to not even really respond to that was very disappointing.

Q. All of the representatives of the NFL who spoke on Friday after talks broke off – Commissioner Roger Goodell, John Mara, Jerry Richardson, Jeff Pash – said that the way to get a deal done is to get back to the negotiating table. How do you get back there?

A. We certainly agree that this will eventually get done at the negotiating table. That's what it's going to take. How long it will take for us to get back there, I don't know. It's probably going to take a little while now. Again, they've chosen to pursue this and take this into the court system, and that may take a while. But we feel there will be another opportunity, and I know the league and the owners are prepared to go back to the table as soon as possible.

Q. You said it might take a while to get back to the negotiating table. So what happens next?

A. They decertified and filed a suit in District Court in Minnesota on Friday, March 11, and we expect there will be some kind of hearing and ruling on that within the next week. Then we'll just have to react to that. Whatever the ruling is that comes down from the judge, we'll have to decide whether to appeal it or whether it's in our favor. We'll have to see.

Q. What would you like to say to Steelers fans?

A. I think I have to ask for their patience at this point. This is a process, and we're certainly hoping to avoid going into a lengthy process, but that's where we are. I hope our fans understand that we're committed to trying to negotiate a fair agreement that works for everybody. I think the offer we put on the table during the mediation reflects that. Again, I have to ask for their patience, but we think we'll get this worked out at the bargaining table eventually. In the meantime, our scouts and our coaches will continue working hard on the draft and doing everything we can to prepare for next season as best we can under the circumstances.

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