CBA talks progressing smoothly, players union says

WNBPA executive committee president Nneka Ogwumike guards vice president Elena Delle Donne in a game last season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.
WNBPA executive committee president Nneka Ogwumike guards vice president Elena Delle Donne in a game last season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.

Leaders of the WNBA’s player union are optimistic that a mutually-agreeable collective bargaining agreement will be ratified by the deadline in two months.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the WNBA have been in negotiations to hammer out a new CBA in time for the expiration of the current contract, which is Oct. 31. A meeting between both sides in Las Vegas last month prior to the All-Star game was a major stepping stone in those talks.

Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the WNBPA’s executive committee, said the event not only provided a venue for discussion, but a chance to meet the league’s new commissioner, Cathy Engelbert.

“I think we had the opportunity to have as many members on the EC and (team representatives) there,” Ogwumike said. “We took advantage of that time to have a formal meeting. It was our first time meeting Cathy, and that was great too.”

The league acknowledged the meeting in a brief statement, calling it “comprehensive and productive,” and said they were “encouraged by the discussions and look forward to additional meetings in the near future.” WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson called it “a great conversation.”

“It was good, honest, long, truthful, respectful and encouraging,” Jackson said.

The union gave the WNBA notice last November that they had opted out of the current CBA, which had been signed in 2014 and was to run through the 2021 season. In an essay for the Player’s Tribune, Ogwumike said athletes were “rejecting the status quo” by “taking a stand” for themselves.

Jackson said the new agreement that the WNBPA is pushing for is centered on three issues: player salary and compensation, player experience – which includes travel, and player health and safety.

“They should have a league that values them as pros, and an agreement that is as good as what they experienced at the collegiate level,” Jackson said.

A hot button issue this summer has been mental health support for athletes – especially after the NBA announced last week that it was expanding such services for its players. Jackson said she can’t comment on the specifics of CBA negotiations. But the WNBPA tweeted Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage “we got you” over the weekend when she asked about mental health treatment in the WNBA, in the wake of writing a revealing essay on depression.

“If it was just about salary, we could have waited until 2021,” Jackson said. “We have been in talks with the league since we opted out of the contract.”

Ogwumike said player turnout for WNBPA voting has been at a high. Her job in negotiations has largely been as an interpreter of sorts, and in ensuring that her peers are involved in the CBA process.

“We have a lot of players asking questions, and that’s what my role is: making sure everyone can comprehend everything,” Ogwumike said. “The CBA is long, extensive and has a lot of legal jargon. But our team has done an amazing job of putting it together. (We’re just) trying to get the players to understand what’s at stake, and that their participation is really important.”

Engelbert, the league’s first commissioner, had only been on the job for six days at the time of the meeting last month, but she made a good impression.

“Cathy and I had met face-to-face and talked for about an hour,” Jackson said. “She understands the business, is thoughtful in her approach and had ideas. She was excited to start the job.”

Ogwumike said her peers were enthused as well.

“I had a good impression of Cathy. Her resume really follows her strongly,” Ogwumike said. “We’re excited to have someone like that with a business mind. Also someone who holds the title of commissioner. That role holds a lot of weight. We’re excited, and I was happy to be able to meet her in person.”

Ogwumike said she looks forward to continuing to hammer out the CBA.

“I think we’re going to get a lot of good things out of this negotiation,” she said.