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A history of the WNBA collective bargaining agreement

With the Sparks ownership crisis resolved and a schedule released, there's only one obstacle facing the WNBA - the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the players. We take a look at each of the past three CBAs.

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Everyone who is a WNBA fan is waiting for the signing of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the WNBA and the Women's National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the organization that represents the WNBa players. Until that agreement is signed, there can be no signing of free agency, no trades, no nothin' involving player contracts or player movement. It's hard to get an off-season buzz started about who got traded and who is trade bait when trades and signings are not legally possible.

There have been three CBAs signed between the league and the players in the past - one in 1999, another in 2003, and the most recently expired one in 2008. What did each of these agreements give WNBA players?

The history of the CBA

The history of the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement coincides with the foundation of the players' representative body, the WNBPA. This organization was founded on November 6, 1998 and serves as the union for all WNBA players, in essence a closed shop. It is the first labor union comprised of professional women athletes. Each team provides two player representatives and there is an executive committee which leads the union.

In the 1999 CBA:

  • a 75 percent minimum salary increase for rookies was established
  • a 100 percent minimum salary increase for veterans was established
  • year round health and dental insurance and a retirement plan were set up
  • a maternity policy was established - players were eligible for paid maternity leave
  • at the mid-point of the season, contracts would be guaranteed for rostered players
  • the WNBA would be granted a guaranteed percentage of royalties from player-identified licensed products, with the WNBPA earning a minimum yearly payment of $100,000
  • a limit on the number of American Basketball League (ABL) players that could belong to a WNBA team. In 1999, each team could have up to three former ABL players - except for expansion teams Orlando and Minnesota, which could have five. In 2000, there would be no restriction on the signing of ex-ABL players.

This was a contentious issue, probably the most contentious one of the initial CBA. Before the CBA was finalized, ABL players felt they were being locked out of the league. During the WNBA party at the Women's Final Four in 1999, it was so crowded that many of those who had invitations couldn't get inside - the event had been flooded by ABL players, coaches, and others associated with the defunct league seeking WNBA jobs.

The second collective bargaining agreement was effective in April 2003 and ended in October of 2006. The WNBA extended the collective bargaining agreement to the 2007 season under the terms of that agreement. This was a tough CBA, where David Stern threatened the WNBA players that he would cancel the season if an agreement was not reached by April 18, 2003. He still had the clout because the NBA had supplied the WNBA with $12 million of assistance and the league was still beginning its transition from the WNBA ownership model switching from a "single entity" model to an "individual ownership" model. The players wanted the CBA to last three seasons, but lost the battle.

In the 2003 CBA:

  • free agency was introduced. Any player with six years of experience whose contract had expired could become an unrestricted free agent under the CBA. Restricted free agency rules were also added.
  • guaranteed a 17 percent increase in the amount teams could spend on salaries over the four seasons covered by the CPA.
  • the number of categories from which players were barred from making an endorsement was decreased from 18 to six. (The WNBA, however, has never released a list categories from which players were barred from making an endorsement)
  • the return of player group licensing rights to WNBA players

The most recent collective bargaining agreement was in January 2008.

In the 2008 CBA:

  • player salaries were guaranteed to at least increase each year
  • the player minimums and maximums were increased. Currently, these values are approximately $34,500 (undrafted rookie) to $107,500 as the maximum possible salary
  • the number of designated core players per team was decreased from two to one starting in the 2009 season -a "core player" is when a team retains rights to a player in exchange for the one-year maximum salary
  • players who had five or more years of service would get individual hotel rooms while on the road
  • there was a revenue sharing component added if teams could make approximately $2.5 million from ticket sales

This collective bargaining agreement expired just before the 2013 WNBA , but the teams played without it.

In 2009, the WNBA players union agreed to amend the CBA to reduce the number of roster slots from 13 to 11. This decrease on roster size has been decried by both players and fans. An increase in the roster size from 11 to some higher number (12 or 13) will probably be the major obstacle in getting a new agreement signed.

According to the WNBPA player website, here are the players who are most likely to be involved in getting a new agreement signed. (What follows comes straight from the website - this is the most up-to-date information we're aware of.)

WNBPA Executive Committee

  • Tamika Catchings, President
  • Ruth Riley, First Vice President
  • Renee Montgomery, Secretary/Treasurer
  • Kara Lawson, Vice President
  • Swin Cash: Vice President

Player representatives by team

Atlanta: Le'coe Willingham, Alex Bentley
Chicago: Carolyn Swords, Sharnee' Zoll
Connecticut: Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery (both serve on the Executive Committee)
Indiana: Jessica Davenport, Briann January
Los Angeles: Lindsey Harding, Nneka Ogwumike
Minnesota: Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore
New York: Plenette Pierson, Kelsey Bone
Phoenix: Charde Houston, Krystal Thomas
San Antonio: Jayne Appel, Danielle Robinson
Seattle: Temeka Johnson, Tanisha Wright
Tulsa: Tiffany Jackson-Jones, Candice Wiggins
Washington: Michelle Snow, Quanitra Hollingsworth