Thursday, March 3, 2011
With recent word out that the NFL and players union (NLFPA) have agreed to a 24-hour extension of their expiring collective-bargaining agreement to allow for more negotiations, it's worth thinking about what might happen if the negotiations fail. The New York Times has a piece that explores one possible outcome--the union decertifies itself. It's a strategy with risks to both sides. But the fact that the players are seriously considering is one illustration of why the more powerful athlete unions are in an entirely different class than most unions. It also provides a good example of how labor and antitrust laws intersect. For the article:
If the union decertifies, owners will face a decision. They could impose their own rules that would allow the games to continue, a decision likely to expose the league to a series of antitrust lawsuits brought by players that would attack the underpinnings of the current game: the salary cap, the franchise tag that restricts movement of some free agents, and even the validity of some player contracts.
It is an unusual, and risky, maneuver for the union. Players would lose benefits and, at least for a little while, a say in how the league is run. But it already has received the necessary votes from players. A decision to dissolve could come by Thursday, hours before the current labor deal expires. . . .
This time around, the owners seem unlikely to let the games be played because they view them as essentially funding players’ lawsuits — the players would be earning a paycheck while the suits worked their way through the courts. Owners consider that one of the fundamental mistakes they made the last time the union dissolved. . . . Still, the ramifications of decertification worry N.F.L. owners enough that they are in an odd position for management — they want the union to remain intact and they will claim that decertification is a sham. . . .
Last month, the N.F.L. filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the union was failing to negotiate in good faith because it was planning to decertify. The N.F.L. said that the union is engaging in “surface bargaining” and tactics designed to avoid reaching an agreement before the collective bargaining agreement expires so it can file antitrust litigation against the league to try to block a lockout. . . . The N.L.R.B. has not yet ruled on the N.F.L.’s complaint. That leaves the owners likely to lock out players when the current deal expires, even if the union decertifies before then, essentially shutting down the league.
UPDATE: NPR has a recent story on NFL decertification that's particularly good in introducing the issue to non-experts.