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Union responds to latest NHL offer in labor talks

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NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL players' association delivered its latest counteroffer to the league Wednesday as the two sides try to resolve the lockout.

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That makes four offers between the sides since the NHL restarted the negotiation process Thursday with a new contract proposal. What has become a major point of contention is how a player's pension will be funded.

A small group meeting on the pension issue was held Wednesday morning before the players' association presented its latest offer to the league during a one-hour afternoon meeting. A group of players arrived at the NHL offices around 8 p.m. as the union and league prepared to meet again.

A deal can't be done without a resolution on pensions.

The league presented the players with a counteroffer Tuesday night.

The lockout has reached its 109th day, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that the league told the union a deal needs to be in place by Jan. 11 so a 48-game season can begin eight days later. All games through Jan. 14 along with the All-Star game have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

Wednesday night is the deadline for the players' association to declare a ``disclaimer of interest,'' which would dissolve the union and make it a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.

If the deadline passes, union members could vote again to authorize their board to file a disclaimer at a later date.

``The players retain their option and it's an internal matter,'' players' association executive director Donald Fehr said Wednesday.

The league didn't make any statements after the meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Fehr believed an agreement on a players-funded pension had been reached before talks blew up in early December. That apparently wasn't the case, or the NHL has changed its offer regarding the pension in exchange for agreeing to other things the union wanted.

The NHL proposed in its first offer Thursday that pension contributions come out of the players' share of revenues, and $50 million of the league's make-whole payment of $300 million will be allocated and set aside to fund potential underfunding liabilities of the plan at the end of the collective bargaining agreement.

Last month, the NHL agreed to raise its make-whole offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million as part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three nonnegotiable points. Instead, the players' association accepted the raise in funds, but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.

After the league countered with another offer Tuesday night, Bettman said the new proposal addressed specific areas the union requested.

``There were certain things that the players' association asked for that we agreed to. There were some things that we moved in their direction, and there were other things that we said no,'' he said. ``That's part of the process.''

But it's a process that has limited time to be completed.

The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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