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Labor Talks Could Stall WNBA Season

April 7, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Women’s pro basketball may be about to match the men, at least on the labor front, as stalemated negotiations are threatening the start of the season, scheduled for June 10.

The league has set a Saturday deadline for reaching a contract agreement with its players. Without one, the Women’s National Basketball Association could order a lockout, the same way the NBA did in July. That labor dispute delayed the start of the NBA season until Feb. 5, cost players an estimated $400 million in salaries and reduced the schedule from 82 games to 50.

``I can’t discuss our options,″ said Val Ackerman, president of the WNBA, which is owned by the NBA, said Tuesday. ``We continue to remain optimistic that we can make a deal. Time is very short. We indicated that in February when we began these talks. We have a pre-draft camp scheduled for next weekend and a draft at the end of April. It’s important to move quickly. Negotiations have been ongoing.″

WNBA players, who are represented by the NBA Players Association, are seeking increases from the league’s $15,000 minimum salary to $45,000, a share of revenue from the sale of team merchandise, retirement benefits and the right to challenge disciplinary action.

``Certainly no one is saying the women get what the men get. But I think it is unfair that the women get about 1 1/2 percent of what the men get,″ said Bruce Levy, an agent for about three dozen WNBA players. ``Something is very, very wrong. I don’t see how the league on the one hand can plead poverty and on the other hand refuse to give any financial data to back that up.″

Ackerman said the league proposal increases player compensation for the first year by 30 percent. It includes year-round health and dental benefits, pension and maternity benefits, life insurance, and creation of an advisory panel to give players input into league operations.

Ackerman said the value of the league’s salary and benefits package averages $60,000. ``We allow our players to play elsewhere,″ she said. ``We ask only a four-month commitment.″

A union official, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said the league has offered a $20,000 minimum, while the union has lowered its demand from $60,000 to $55,000 to $45,000. The sides agree they are about $2 million apart, the union official said.

Levy estimated that the WNBA generated about $25 million in profits above its projections for its first two seasons. Only recently did the league propose to extend insurance through the entire year rather having coverage only during the season. Levy said it was prompted by the plight of Houston Comets point guard Kim Perrot, who was diagnosed with lung cancer and brain tumors.

``I think that was a tremendous embarrassment, that she didn’t have insurance,″ Levy said. ``It would have put her in debt for life. I believe they said they would cover it. It’s outrageous, the height of hypocrisy.″

Also at issue is the disposition of players from the ABL. Ackerman said the WNBA would like a maximum of four ABL players on the rosters of the 10 existing teams, with the expansion teams from Minnesota and Orlando allowed to carry six each. The union has asked a limit of two ABL players for each of the 12 WNBA franchises.

``We’ve taken the position that for the good of women’s basketball, we don’t believe it’s appropriate to restrict the influx of players from any origin,″ Ackerman said. ``We want to showcase the best women’s basketball players in the world, regardless of their origin. We’re not aware of any league that restricts eligibility.″

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