ESPN via the AP is reporting that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to enter into mediation with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. FMCS director George H. Cohen will be able to make suggestions and recommendations but he has no power to impose a deal between the two sides. Cohen released a statement on the ongoing labor negotiations:
"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement. At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices in Washington, D.C. commencing Friday, February 18."
The biggest effect I see this having is just getting a neutral third party to listen and make suggestions that could push the two sides to a deal. The NFL and NFLPA have locked into a fairly bitter battle and may have drawn lines in the sand with their membership making it harder to see the forest for the trees. FCMS describes their work in collective bargaining mediation as follows:
In collective bargaining mediation, FMCS mediators are in touch with both parties even before negotiations actually begin. The contact is triggered by the legally-required notice of intent to open a collective bargaining agreement.
During negotiations, effective mediators use knowledge of the parties and issues "on the table" to guide negotiators through potential deadlocks to a settlement which both sides can accept.
Mediators may make suggestions and offer procedural or substantive recommendations with the agreement of both parties. However, they have no authority to impose settlements. Their only tool is the power of persuasion.
The mediators' effectiveness derives from their acceptability to both parties, their broad knowledge, experience in the process of collective bargaining, and their status as respected neutrals.
I view this as a positive step forward. It remains to be seen how effective it will be, but it at least shows the two sides have some interest in getting something done sooner rather than later. They very well could have waited for expiration of the deal and a lockout to begin before considering mediation.