WNBA, players' union extend CBA to continue talks through 2019

Connecticut Sun's Alyssa Thomas, center, shoots over Los Angeles Sparks' Nneka Ogwumike, left, and Los Angeles Sparks' Candace Parker right, during the WNBA playoffs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

The WNBA and its players association made an announcement Monday indicating both sides are still willing to come to a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement rather than walking away.

“The WNBA and WNBPA have agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement for 60 days to December 31 and will continue discussions regarding a new agreement,” the statement read.

The current CBA was set to expire Thursday after the WNBPA opted out of it a year ago. The CBA, set in 2014, originally went until 2021 but included a provision to opt out.

"We are committed to doing the work for the best agreement, and more time is required to accomplish that result," union executive director Terri Jackson said, via ESPN.

By extending the current CBA, it allows the sides to keep talking and likely come to a decision they can both agree on. It also avoids a lockout or strike at this point in the offseason.

Work stoppage not on players’ minds

Los Angeles Sparks forward and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike spoke at the espnW Women + Sports Summit last week and put aside the idea there would be a work stoppage. Via ESPN:

"It's not something we're thinking about at all. I know that's what comes to people minds that are not inside negotiations, but strike, lockout, that's nothing of any concern for us because that's not our goal. That's not something we're looking forward to. That's not on our radar."

A work stoppage would hurt as the WNBA continues its gains in viewership, fans and stars.

Extending the deadline shows as much, but also indicates that the players association won’t give in just to get a deal on the books and keep playing. It’s not uncommon for sides to be essentially forced to take a deal, which is becoming a talking point for the USWNT’s fight against U.S. Soccer for equal pay.

Cathy Engelbert is reason to be optimistic

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has made a good impression on players and fans since she was hired in May. The former Deloitte CEO made a trip to all 12 teams before the playoffs started and heard from all of the players, coaches, owners, media members and fans. It focused on CBA negotiations for the first-year leader.

Engelbert told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel earlier this month the sides were in active negotiations through the playoffs. She gained favor when she approved charter flights for the West Coast teams traveling to the East Coast for the semifinals series given the 48-hour turnaround. And in general, she’s been clear to the media that unlike in business, this is a situation where both sides want the same things.

"We have the same goal here: To lift the players year-round," Engelbert said, via ESPN. "To have the athletes in the WNBA receive the recognition they deserve."

Extending the current CBA’s life would indicate the sides are working together to find how those same goals can make sense financially.

Issues at stake include salary, travel

The most talked about issue on the agenda is salary with players advocating for a larger piece of the revenue share. Most players go overseas in the offseason and make far more than they do in the U.S.

Travel accommodations is another aspect. Teams fly commercial, suffering health impacts from it, and in the case of the Los Vegas Aces have agreed to not play games due to travel snafus and late arrivals.

They are also discussing leveling the field for offseason training opportunities. Ogwumwike told ESPN some teams don’t give their players resources during the off months to stay at a high level.

"I think that can be achieved in the new CBA. That's really major because once you finish playing, it's like, 'OK, what am I doing now? How am I lifting? Who is putting me through basketball workouts? Is there therapy available? Treatment?' A lot of times you have to negotiate those in the offseason and whatever agreements you have with your team in exchange for doing offseason marketing appearances or such. So to be able to standardize that across the league, so that players know that's available, that's an important thing to me."

Dallas Wings star Skylar Diggins-Smith opened another topic that could be major in negotiations. Diggins-Smith announced she played the 2018 season while pregnant and though she intended to return for part of the 2019 season after giving birth, she missed time due to postpartum depression. In a string of tweets, she blasted the Wings for not supporting her. It brought into question the “core player designation,” which has kept star players from being moved as easily, and mental health resources that are now available in the NBA.

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