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NFL Files Unfair Labor Practices Charge Against NFLPA

Feb 14, 2011 – 4:29 PM
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Dan Graziano

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NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is locked in a legal battle with NFL owners with no end to the CBA negotiations in sight.Each side in the NFL's labor dispute has charged that the other isn't interested in serious negotiations. On Monday, the league made its charge formal. The NFL filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the union is planning to decertify in an effort to ward off an owner-imposed lockout. Union officials said the filing has been expected for some time, since individual teams took votes in the fall on whether they'd be willing to decertify the union in the event of a lockout.

When asked about decertification, the NFLPA has repeatedly said it would consider all options if locked out while continuing to make the point that it's the owners who opted out of the current deal and who would be responsible for the genesis of a work stoppage.

"The players didn't walk out, and the players can't lockout," the union's statement read. "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 "walk out" reference is to the fact that the NFL walked out of negotiations last Wednesday and canceled a scheduled negotiation session for the next day. The "lockout" reference, of course, is to what the union believes is the league's long-held plan to lock out the players March 4 in an effort to secure a new, more owner-favorable collective bargaining agreement. The players believe it's the owners who have not been willing to negotiate seriously because a lockout is part of their plan. If they are locked out, the players could decertify the union and re-organize as a trade association, which would give them the right to sue the owners for unfair labor practices. Monday's action is the owners' effort to head off that maneuver and secure the public-relations high ground in the looming legal wrangling.

Theoretically, an investigation by the NLRB would result in an impartial examination of each side's proposals to date. And if that's the case, the union believes it has nothing to fear. The NFLPA contends that it has offered thorough counter-proposals on rookie wage scale, 18-game regular season and other issues in an effort to get the owners to the bargaining table. On the other hand, the owners walked out last week because they didn't think the players' proposal of a 50-50 split of all league revenues was reasonable.

The owners already take about $1 billion off the top of the approximately $9 billion revenue pool for operating costs before splitting the remainder 40/60 with the players. Their current proposal is to take an additional $1 billion off (for a total of $2 billion) before sharing the remainder with the players. The players have requested to see teams' audited financial statements for proof of the financial hardship that has apparently prompted the owners to ask for such a give-back, and the owners have refused. The players last week said they would drop the demand for the opening of the books if the owners would agree to split the total pie 50-50, and at that point the owners walked out, accusing the players of negotiating backwards and asking for money that's currently not part of their share.

No formal negotiating sessions are currently scheduled between now and March 3, which is the final day of the current league year. Since last week's truncated session, the two sides have been caucusing. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell briefed the 32 owners on the progress (or lack thereof) in a conference call late last week, and union executive director DeMaurice Smith has been conferencing with players reps and agents.

It's been reported that the union and agents are considering a boycott of next week's scouting combine as a protest against the looming lockout, but one person familiar with the union's plans called those reports "overblown," saying the idea came up in an earlier meeting but isn't likely to happen. There remains a chance players could protest at April's NFL Draft in New York City, but that would fall during the lockout, unlike the combine, which will be completed before the current deal ends.

Filed under: Sports