No talks in sight as NFL owners meeting is set to begin Monday


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will address team owners at the league meeting, which opens Monday in New Orleans. (Rod Lamkey/GETTY IMAGES)
March 20, 2011

There is no resumption of talks between the NFL and its locked-out players in sight, and the two sides seem to be entrenched in their differing views over the validity of the players’ recent move to dissolve their union.

As the owners of the teams gathered Sunday in New Orleans for the annual league meeting, it appeared unlikely there would be further talks between the NFL and the players prior to a hearing scheduled for April 6 before a federal judge in St. Paul, Minn., about the players’ request for an injunction to lift the lockout.

Negotiations between the league and union collapsed 10 days ago. The players announced that day they had decertified their union and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. The owners locked out players the following day.

With the union no longer in business as the bargaining agent for the players, in the players’ view, they have directed the league to contact their attorneys in the antitrust lawsuit, Jeff Kessler and Jim Quinn, about any further settlement talks.

In a letter Saturday to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the 11 players on the dissolved union’s ruling executive committee wrote: “We no longer have the authority to collectively bargain on behalf of the NFL players, and are supporting the players who are asserting their antitrust rights in the . . . litigation. We have heard that you have offered to have discussions with representatives of the players. As you know, the players are represented by class counsel. . . . If you have any desire to discuss a settlement of the issues in that case, you should contact Class Counsel.”

The NFL, however, does not recognize the validity of the players’ decertification of the union and has challenged the move in a pending unfair labor practice charge to the National Labor Relations Board. In the NFL’s view, the union remains the legal bargaining representative of the players, so the league’s obligation under labor law is to deal only with the union. The league does not appear to have any problem dealing with the attorneys involved, who participated in the labor negotiations as outside lawyers for the union, but would only do so if they were representing the union.

“We’ve negotiated with the union and its lawyers before,” said Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations. “If the union wants to resume the negotiations and have its lawyers there for the talks, we’ll be there tomorrow.”

The league meeting in New Orleans officially opens Monday morning with Goodell addressing the owners and other representatives of the teams. The owners are to vote by Tuesday on proposals by the competition committee to change the rules on kickoffs to try to make them safer, and to make all scoring plays automatically subject to instant-replay review.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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