NFL files unfair labor practice charge against players' union

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 10:58 PM

The NFL filed a charge of an unfair labor practice against the players' union Monday with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union of failing to bargain in good faith while instead making preparations for the players to decertify the union and file an antitrust lawsuit against the league's franchise owners.

"The Union's strategy amounts to an unlawful anticipatory refusal to bargain," the league wrote in its written charge to the NLRB.

The league is seeking an order for the union to bargain in good faith. If the league is successful, that potentially would complicate or perhaps eliminate any attempt by the players to decertify the union during this set of labor negotiations and file antitrust litigation against the owners.

The league maintains in its charge with the NLRB that the union has not engaged in serious bargaining so far, calling the players' plan to potentially decertify the union "a ploy and an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process."

In response, the union issued a written statement that said: "The players didn't walk out and the players can't lockout. Players want a fair, new and long-term deal. We have offered proposals and solutions on every issue the owners have raised. This claim has absolutely no merit."

The sport's current labor deal between the owners and players expires March 4. Players and union officials have said they expect the players to be locked out by the owners at that point if the two sides cannot agree to a new deal first.

The players have voted to authorize the decertification of the union if necessary. That move, if taken by the players, in effect would put the union out of business as a bargaining agent for the players. The players then would have the ability to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners.

Decertification of the union by the players potentially could dissuade the owners from a lockout. Legal experts have said the owners still could lock out the players if the union is decertified but that would carry the risk of the lockout being cited in any antitrust litigation by the players.

The players have decertified the union in the past. The sport's system of free agency and a salary cap was put into place in the early 1990s as part of a settlement of antitrust litigation by the players.

Bob Batterman, an outside labor attorney for the owners, wrote in a cover letter Monday to Karen Fernbach, the acting regional director of the NLRB in New York, that the league's charge against the union is "for breach of its duty to bargain collectively and in good faith concerning the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement covering all NFL players."

The league's written charge accuses the union of delaying the scheduling of bargaining sessions; failing to respond in a timely and meaningful way to labor proposals by the league; "inducing" the league to make proposals that were "then categorically rejected" by the union; and seeking the disclosure of teams' financial data to which the union has no legal right.

With the league's charge being made on Valentine's Day, George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, wrote on Twitter: "Hey Batterman: you could have just sent me flowers and chocolate."

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