Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What can mediation do for MLS?

Mark Abbott and Bob Foose are definitely not biffies. We know this. If they were, they wouldn't have broken the veil of silence and turned the ongoing negotations into certifiable stalemate.

Psst!- here's a secret. You don't have to be best friends to entertain mediation.

Yep, good ol' fashioned mediation. Time-tested, Higher Power-approved dispute resolution.

Since touching upon the subject last week, I figured it would be worthwhile - maybe even educational - to provide the 411 on how labor peace can be achieved with relative ease.

First things first. Mediation is absolutely IDEAL when two sides have an ongoing relationship with each other. Unless intergalactic war is waged and the Shi'ar overtake the planet and Erik the Red banishes MLSPU to a distant star in the process, the League and the union are going to have to shack up with each other for awhile. And that's the great thing about mediation: it serves to preserve long-term relationships.

It's crucial that both sides are willing to concede something. After all, it would be a complete waste of time if the parties don't budge from their positions. You can't cross a bridge by standing still.

Each side must also recognize and understand the other's importance. Without the league, there is no MLSPU. Without the MLSPU, the League becomes USL-3, halftime dog olympics and all. I know that sounds overly simplistic, but I just don't have the brainpower to argue such complexities as player coups, scabs, Pele, and outlaw leagues. Therefore, it's important enter any mediation with good faith. Each side should genuinely apprach mediation with the intent to settle, rather than using it as a delay tactic.

Next step is to bring the parties together to agree on either a sole mediatior, or a panel of three mediators. In this case, given how contentious these discussions have recently turned, a three-mediator panel might be approrpiate. So here's how it works.

Each side picks a nationally-respected neutral to mediate on their behalf. This allows each party to remove themselves from the fight, so to speak. From there, the party-appointed mediators sit down, the weather, their kids, the economy, etc. and confer on a third, completely neutral mediator who will act as the chairperson. They agree on said mediator. And thus, the panel is born.

The panel schedules a conference call to which the neutrals and parties discuss a date to schedule the actual mediation. The chair will ask for position statements detailing what each side wants, and is willing to concede. These are strictly confidential unless otherwise agreed. Oh, and even though it's pretty much a given, the schedule must ensure that all of the decision makers are present for the mediation.

On the day of the mediation, the panel and the parties meet at the roundtable. From there, the party appoints caucus with their respective parties. After some preliminary discussions, the chair then meets with each party separately, and acts as the "voice of reason." She listens to the League, ie., its demands, and what it is willing to concede. The chair then consults with the union. She listens to what their demands. The chair then goes back to the League. She outlines what the union wants. The League will likely turn down some of those demands. She goes back to the union and tells them what the league will accept, and what they'll turn down. And so it continues as the sides are brought closer together.

A good mediator - one who did his/her homework and understands the nature of collective bargaining agreement disputes - will attempt to bridge the parties positions with neutral, unbiased advice. She will offer solutions. If necessary, reasonable alternatives will be explored. She will work feverishly to bring about one result: settlement. Her role isn't to decide who is right and who is wrong. Her sole responsibility is to bring the sides together.

So, if the League and the union are genuinely interested in remaining playmates this season and beyond, then mediation is a no-brainer. Of course, mediation is non-binding. In the event that a party renegs on its part of the bargain, the agreement cannot be enforced in court. However, it's worth mentioning that the rate of voluntary compliance is very high when the parties have settled in good faith.

Lastly, I'm sure a question that anyone would naturally have is the success rate of mediation. Although there is no hard number, it is generally believed within the industry that nearly 80% of mediations end in settlement.

There. I've outlined it to the best of one's ability during his lunch break. I'm almost certain I've missed some key milestones in the process. However, this should only to serve as a glimpse of what the League and the union is missing out on by failing to mediate their dispute.

Come on. This isn't Celebrity Housewives of Orange County. This is Football. Futbol. Soccer. MLS.

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