NFL Owners and Players Move Contract Dispute to the Legal Trenches

football.jpgThe collective bargaining agreement between the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL owners had been briefly extended to 11:59 pm on Friday, March 11 while the parties engaged in negotiations with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, DC. Much to the chagrin of NFL fans everywhere, the players and owners could not reach agreement. While certainly not a substitute for NFL action, the legal maneuvering by the NFLPA will give traditional labor law followers something to focus on other than the prospect of no fantasy football come September.

NFL owners had made it clear for months that they intended to lock out the players if a new CBA was not reached. In an effort to thwart the lockout, the NFLPA disclaimed interest in continuing to represent the players for purposes of collective bargaining. (While the NFLPA’s move has been widely reported as a “decertification,” it is technically a disclaimer of interest.) The players took this action as a predicate to their next legal maneuver – the filing of an anti-trust action in federal court in Minnesota. The players’ theory is that because they are no longer represented by a union, the NFL owners cannot act in concert in dealing with the players. By acting in concert, the players argue, the NFL owners are acting as an illegal trust – a modern day Standard Oil – to control costs and maximize profits. The players bringing the lawsuit, including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, are seeking an injunction prohibiting the lockout and requiring the owners to resume all league business (off-season workouts, free agent signings, etc.)

NFL owners have responded by filing an unfair labor practice charge alleging the decertification/disclaimer of interest is a sham. The NFLPA, the owners argue, is in truth continuing to represent the players, but is falsely claiming that it is no longer acting as a union simply to prevent the owners from using the economic weapon of a lockout.

A hearing on the players’ request for an injunction is scheduled for April 6 before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul, Minnesota. The status of the NFL owners’ unfair labor practice charge is not known at this time. What will happen next is equally unknown. Judge Nelson could grant the players an injunction, in which case league business would resume while the parties litigate in the background. The NLRB could find merit to the owners’ unfair labor practice charge and seek 10(j) relief, which might trump the anti-trust suit.

Ultimately, it is expected the owners and players will reach an agreement. Whether or not that happens in time to save the season is an open question. Green Bay might be NFL champions for a long time.

This entry was written by John Doran.

(photo credit: blueflames)

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.