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Labor Dispute Update: Owners File Grievance

Today saw a new, if not unexpected, development in the unfolding drama between the league owners and the players' union, the NFLPA. This morning, the owners filed an unfair labor practice claim against the NFLPA. Essentially, this is a move by the owners to try and preempt what they expect to be coming soon from the union--de-certification. We'll look more at why these things were done and what they mean after the jump.

The negotiating process between the owners and the players is currently governed by federal labor law, which has a couple of effects. First, as long as the two sides are engaged in collective bargaining, their dealings are exempt from federal anti-trust law, which is good for both sides because then they don't have to worry about random anti-trust lawsuits coming from either side. Second, as long as the two sides are negotiating "in good faith" (meaning are honestly attempting to come to an agreement) this remains true. According to labor law, if good faith negotiations go nowhere, ownership is allowed to declare an impasse. Once this happens, the owners are legally permitted to unilaterally impose new conditions on the players. They can lock the players out, decide that the players only get 10% of the revenue, whatever they want and it's perfectly legal. The players, on the other hand, have remedies they can turn to in the event this happens--boycotts, strikes, etc.


The union, of course, recognizes that this is the owners' strategy. Their plan to beat the owners is to de-certify. What's that mean? Let's back up a second. In order for a trade union to legally claim to represent all workers in a given industry, there have to be secret ballot elections where the workers can decide whether they want to organize or not. If enough workers vote in favor of unionization, the union gets formed. Then, they apply to the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency which regulates labor disputes, for certification. Once the NLRB certifies them, they are an official union, and can legally bargain collectively on behalf of all the workers in that industry.

So, the NFLPA's plan is to de-certify, which would dissolve the union. Once the union is dissolved, collective bargaining would cease, and owner-player interaction would no longer be covered by the federal labor law anti-trust exemption. Thereafter, any unilateral changes made by the owners would be illegal, and the players could challenge them in court, as well as file anti-trust lawsuits against the owners for any action they take.

The owners expect the players to attempt the de-certification gambit, because they've done it before. Their claim to the NLRB, therefore, is that the coming de-certification by the union is a sham, a ploy designed to frustrate the owners. This is an unfair labor practice, they claim, because it won't be done in good faith.

So, this isn't unexpected. Neither is it earth-shattering. It's just one more step towards the impasse and lockout that we all know is coming. Here's to hoping we get football back sometime soon.