Yesterday it was announced that the NFL filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing the NFLPA of failing to negotiate 'in good faith', saying the union's "conduct amounts to surface bargaining and an anticipatory refusal to bargain". Oh what a tangled web we weave! What does this all mean though? What do the league mean when they say the NFLPA aren't negotiating 'in good faith' and what does this charge to the NLRB mean? This morning I'm going to help you try and understand.
Ultimately this stems from certain a universal truth that professional sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS) break labor laws at their most base level. Concepts like the draft and franchise tag are not legal, but overwritten by collective bargaining agreements; this occurs because it's patently obvious that constructs like the draft are in the best interest of maintaining parity. So while the average Joe can choose where he works, players understand that when they first enter the league they can be selected and forced to play for whoever drafts them (basically).
Understanding that technically the NFL breaks labor laws is the first step to understanding why the filing of these charges by the league is significant. The players union (NFLPA) are the glue that holds the players together and as a unit they (should) understand the balance between player and league keeping constructs in place to help everything run smoothly.
This is but the groundwork to understand what is occurring, and I'll look at the rest... after the jump
These current labor negotiations aren't something that have just popped up in the last three months- sides have been negotiating for over a year. When it became apparent that the league wasn't going to budge and the NFL entered the uncapped year, the NFLPA sent out questionnaires to the union members asking if they would support decertify the union in the event of an impasse in the negotiations. The vote came back, and the players said they endorsed decertification in the event on an impasse. This event marked the beginning of the NFL's issues and the crux of their claim to the NLRB.
Why would the NFLPA want to dissolve their own union? If they decertify it paves the way for players to file class action lawsuits against the NFL (something that is not allowed under the NFLPA) fighting the lockout, franchise tags, the draft... essentially suing over all of those tacit understandings that allows the NFL to operate, even if they are illegal.
There is precedent for this from 1989 when the union did the same thing. In that situation the tactic worked, the owners relented and free agency was established and the union reformed in 1993. Basically the players got rid of the union until they got what they wanted, then reformed the union and the league continued. It's the league's belief that the NFLPA always intended to decertify, and that their counter offer last week (which I talked about here) was patently designed to derail the negotiations so they could stall until March 4th, claim impasse and decertify the union. Of course the NFLPA vehemently objects to the filing to the NLRB, but it makes it tough to side with them on this given that they voted on this tactic months ago, before the real negotiations ever took place.
Talking of the 1989 situation the NFL said in their filing:
"As in the past, the NFLPA's threatened disclaimer as the representative of the players, together with the now-familiar antitrust litigation that is expected to follow, is a ploy and an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process, there being no evidence whatsoever of any [let alone widespread] disaffection with the union by its members."
Lay man's terms: They are trying to dissolve the union as a tactic to strong arm us. There's no evidence players are unhappy with the NFLPA as an organization, there is no reason for them to dissolve.
The risk in having no union isn't just the possibility of these class action lawsuits, but rather that it would tear at the fabric of the NFL. While it's likely the NFLPA would reform after negotiations are over, there is a possibility that a second, third, or fourth union could emerge and have players join. It's unlikely- but imagine needing to broker three or four CBAs every few years, or having 10 players on a team a member of one union, and 12 on another- it would be chaotic.
In response to the NFL's filing George Atallah (NFLPA spokesman) said:
"The players didn't walk out and the players can't lock out. Players want a fair, new and long-term deal. We have offered proposals and solutions on every issue the owners have raised."
Decertifying the union was the NFLPA's last play, it was them going 'all in' and by anticipating and filing with the NLRB the owners may have been able to call the union's bluff. If the charge by the NFL is upheld it wouldn't block the ability of the NFLPA to decertify, but rather render any anti-trust lawsuits stemming from it null and void- ostensibly removing any reason to dissolve the union. Furthermore, it would force the NFLPA to negotiate 'in good faith' which means (at it's base level) operating under "a sincere belief or motive without any malice or the desire to defraud others".
To call this a 'battle' anymore would not be giving the scope of this situation enough credit, this has become a war.