Commissioner Roger Goodell and union head DeMaurice Smith met in front of a federal mediator for about six hours yesterday, a bid to jump-start contentious and slow-moving labor negotiations two weeks before owners could lock out players and threaten the 2011 season.
The session was the sides’ first with George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a US government agency.
More than two hours after Goodell and Smith arrived separately, the league and the NFL Players Association released a joint statement saying the mediation had started and that both parties agreed to adhere to Cohen’s request that they not speak publicly about the process.
True to their word, Smith and other union representatives — including Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, former player Pete Kendall, and NFLPA lawyer Richard Berthelsen — declined to answer questions on their way out of the meeting.
“There’s not going to be any comment,’’ Smith said as he walked out at 6:15 p.m., more than seven hours after he arrived.
Goodell and other members of the NFL’s bargaining team — including the league’s lead labor negotiator, Jeff Pash, and NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman — avoided media members in front of the building entirely. They left via another exit.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the sides would resume talks, although originally there were plans for several days of negotiations with Cohen present.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the day March 3, and the union has said it expects a lockout to come as soon as the next day.
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