WNBPA opts out of CBA to begin negotiations for better pay, conditions, marketing

The WNBPA opted out of the CBA on Thursday behind President Nneka Ogwumike. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
The WNBPA opted out of the CBA on Thursday behind President Nneka Ogwumike. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The WNBA and its players union will begin their long-awaited negotiations now that the WNBPA opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, announced Thursday afternoon.

The decision was available due to a clause in the CBA, which would have run through 2021. The deadline for either side to use the opt-out clause was Thursday. It allows players to negotiate earlier while the CBA runs through the 2019 season. By then a new CBA will have to be in place.

The WNBA put out its own statement, acknowledging the move and its commitment to “an open and good-faith negotiation that is rooted in the financial realities of our business.”

WNBA players have increasingly voiced displeasure this summer over issues such as compensation, working conditions and media coverage.

WNBA ready to ‘bet on women’

Minutes before the WNBPA Twitter account released its statement, The Players’ Tribune tweeted out a piece by WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike and the WNBPA board titled “Bet on Women” that made the exclusive announcement.

Ogwumike described what it may look like to others and what it actually means to them.

To me, opting out means not just believing in ourselves, but going one step further: betting on ourselves. It means being a group of empowered women, in the year 2018, not just feeling fed up with the status quo, but going one step further: rejecting the status quo. And it means taking a stand, not just for the greatest women’s basketball players of today, but going one step further: taking a stand for the greatest women’s basketball players of tomorrow.

Ogwumike said the WNBPA is looking for transparency and knowledge she said players don’t see the financial numbers so that they can make “common-sense changes that will help our players’ quality of life.”

What do WNBA players want?

WNBA players have been vocal this year about salaries, especially directly after the NBA G League’s “Select Contract” announcement.

The max contract in the WNBA is $115,500 with $2,000 increases per season, according to High Post Hoops. Rookies come in earning more like $50,000, which is around what Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson made in 2018. Many players, especially early in their career, go overseas to play during the WNBA offseason creating a life of year-round basketball and no rest.

All-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi was actually paid by her Russian team to sit out the 2015 WNBA season so she could be well rested to play for them, which is where she made 15 times more than in the U.S. It’s something Brittney Griner, as recently as last month, suggested might begin happening more if issues continue.

As Ogwumike mentioned in her Players’ Tribune piece, there’s no specific information on how much revenue the WNBA brings in or how much of that the players take in salary. It’s been estimated at 20 percent, while it’s 50 percent in the NBA.

The women are not looking for equal salary to NBA players, simply a bigger cut.

But, just as with the USA women’s hockey team negotiations, it’s not all about the money. WNBA players want better marketing, better playing conditions and a better, more player-friendly schedule.

Ogwumike made the point of a 6-foot-9 “superstar taking a red-eye cross-country and having an economy seat instead of an exit row. Often with delays.” After hours cramped up she then has to play a professional sporting event against fellow top athletes in accommodations that again aren’t always well-suited for them.

The Las Vegas Aces forfeited a late-season game this year due to delays with a commercial flight and all four teams in the WNBA semifinals were forced to relocate games at some point during the playoffs due to arena conflicts.

That’s not to mention practice issues, such as those that Bleacher Report chronicled last week with players struggling to find gyms in which to practice and tripping over garbage when they did.

The WNBPA is also seeking better marketing of its players, a surefire way to grow fan bases and invest in a league it feels is sometimes left behind.

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