Arbitrator finds

NEW YORK (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal won’t get his overdue $15 million. Patrick Ewing won’t get the first chunk of his $18.5 million.
They and 224 other players won’t be paid anytime soon because an arbitrator on Monday rejected the union’s grievance that all players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout.
The ruling by arbitrator John Feerick, dean of Fordham of Law School, bolstered the bargaining position of the owners and saved them from having to go to court to avoid paying more than $700 million in salaries.
“We are pleased with the arbitrator’s ruling,” NBA chief legal officer Jeffrey Mishkin said. “Unfortunately, it does not get us any closer to a deal with the union’s leadership.
“Only negotiations will end our current impasse and lead to a settlement of our dispute. This is yet another defeat for the union’s strategy of litigation instead of negotiation.”
The league has already canceled the first two weeks of the season, costing the players about $100 million in lost salaries. More cancellations will probably be announced next week, since no new bargaining sessions are scheduled and the sides are far apart on the main issue of controlling the growth of player salaries.
“I kind of expected it,” union director Billy Hunter said. “I was hoping Dean Feerick would be inclined to see things our way, but we knew it would be a giant leap for him to take, especially since he is a labor lawyer by profession.”
The uncertainty of how Feerick would rule had been a factor in the stalemate all summer and was one of the reasons the sides have met only three times for formal bargaining sessions.
The players’ resolve will now be tested since they won’t be getting paychecks until the lockout is settled. They had been holding out hope that a verdict in their favor would pressure the owners to soften their stance and come to the table with a better offer.
“The players don’t seem to realize they can’t get that money back. It’s gone, gone forever, and they seem to think that’s not the case,” commissioner David Stern said.
Hunter said he and union president Patrick Ewing had spoken to 20 players since Feerick’s decision was announced.
“If you thought the guys were zealous about staying committed to the cause, they’re probably more rabid than they were before,” Hunter said.
The union claimed that the absence of lockout language in the standard player contract meant that owners should be held liable for paying guaranteed salaries, especially since other circumstances under which salaries can be withheld are clearly defined.
The union pointed to lockout language in the league’s television and other contracts, arguing that such clauses indicated that a work stoppage was foreseeable and should have been included in player contracts.
The owners argued that the right to exert pressure on employees by withholding pay during a lockout was a fundamental tenet of labor law.
The sides are fighting over, among other things, the amount of money owners will devote to salaries. Concerned by salaries that are outpacing revenues, the owners imposed the lockout July 1 and have promised to achieve a new deal that limits payroll costs.
The union, however, has vowed to resist any deal that includes a “hard” salary cap. The old system included several exceptions that allowed teams to exceed the cap, and 24 of the 29 teams reportedly exceeded the $26.9 million limit last season.
The sides haven’t bargained since last Tuesday, when the players proposed a “tax” on the highest salaries to help slow payroll growth.
The league responded Friday with a counterproposal incorporating the tax, but at a much lower threshold and with much higher rates. The union responded by saying it was a “step backward,” and the sides have been waiting to hear from Feerick ever since.
“It’s a result we expected,” Stern said.
There seems little possibility that talks will resume this week. The union has scheduled a meeting of its entire membership in Las Vegas for Wednesday and Thursday, and a strategy of decertifying the union will be discussed.
The union filed the grievance just hours before the lockout was imposed July 1. Although Feerick’s jurisdiction expired along with the collective bargaining agreement, he ruled the union had beat the deadline and he was entitled to hear the case.
Most players were to receive their first paychecks Nov. 15, although a handful had clauses entitling them to be paid over the summer. O’Neal was supposed to receive his entire salary in one payment on Oct. 1.
Feerick also ruled in the controversial Latrell Sprewell case in which he reinstated the player’s contract and reduced his one-year suspension for attacking his coach.