Thursday, December 28, 2006

MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement Terms Run Into Barry Bonds/Balco Steroids Investigation

Balco_thumbUpdate: The players' union plans to challenge the decision on Fourth Amendment grounds, saying that the ruling eviscerates constitutional protections for confidential electronic records.

In 2003, Major League Baseball (MLB) and its players' union agreed to investigate whether there was really a steroids problem in professional baseball (and as it turns out, there was).  As part of this agreement, the players' union agreed that its players could be tested for steroids use, but the collective bargaining agreement stipulated that the drug test results would remain confidential.

Along comes the Barry Bonds/Balco federal investigation into baseball player use of steroids and federal prosecutors obtained the results of those players who tested positive for steroid use (some 100 players out of about 1400) as a result of raiding labs that conducted the tests.

Although in a suit brought by the players' union three lower courts had initially agreed that the seizure of the records violated the players' constitutional rights, the AP is now reporting that the Ninth Circuit, in a consolidated appeal, has determined that the government may keep those confidential drug testing results, even though such results were supposed to remain confidential under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Finding no Fourth Amendment violation or any other constitutional infirmities with the government's actions, it is not surprising that the labor agreement did not provide a further defense for the players' union.  As the CBA was only between the players and the owners, the language of the agreement did not bind the federal government as far as keeping the results of the testing anonymous.

The lesson, from a labor law perspective, is that even though parties are bound by terms in a labor agreement, the government may override those terms if necessary to carry out its police powers within constitutional limits.

The case is United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc., 05-10067 (9th Cir. Dec. 27, 2006).

Hat Tip:   Drew Wheeler


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