NFL files labor claim; says players aren't negotiating in good faith

Doug Farrar
February 14, 2011

In case you thought the current NFL labor mess was at its ugliest when the owners walked out of a recent bargaining session, or when Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson insulted the intelligence of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees ... well, kids, you'd best prepare yourself for a whole lot more ugliness before this is all over. It appears that the moves we've seen so far were equivalent to the North and South lining up cannons at Fort Sumter, and the first real shots haven't been fired.

Until now.

It was reported on Monday that the NFL has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NFLPA. The league's claim is based on the fact that the Players Association has gathered all the player votes it needs (unanimous, from all 32 teams) to decertify if necessary. And the value of decertification (as we outlined months ago) is that it alters the professional scope of the group of current players, allowing them to act as a trade organization instead of a union. And under those conditions, the players could bring an antitrust action against the owners, claiming that the projected lockout that could happen on March 4 (the beginning of the new league year) is actually illegal.

Under the heading "Basis of the Charge," the NFL says in Monday's filing with the NLRB that during current negotiations, the union delayed the scheduling of bargaining sessions; failed to "respond in a timely and/or meaningful manner" to owners' contract proposals; and insisted on "disclosure of financial data to which the NFLPA has no legal right and then suspending negotiations unless and until such data is produced."

But based on recent events, and the ramifications of decertification, the NFL's claim that the effort to decertify is the reason for the NFLPA's unwillingness to bargain in good faith is questionable at best. During the first labor discussions in months in Dallas around the time of the Super Bowl, we saw Richardson's condescension toward the players, and the owners' walkout after the NFLPA offered a straight 50-50 split of total revenue that allowed the owners to avoid doing the one thing they really don't want to -- open their books and "prove" that their debt structures are reaching nightmare proportions.

The truth is more likely that teams are still clearing millions after annual debt; but not as much as they were before the economy went in the tank. If every team has similar financial conditions as the Green Bay Packers, a straight total revenue split without full financial disclosure would seem to be a relative dream come true for the owners ... unless it is the owners' intention to lock the players out and break the union by any means necessary. Last Friday, ESPN's John Clayton was the first to report that the walkout was planned all along, no matter what was offered (this has since been confirmed by Shutdown Corner after speaking with an NFLPA source).

"The players didn't walk out, and the players can't lockout," the NFLPA said in a response to the labor claim. "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."

So, to put this in perspective, the owners have talked down to the other side of the table, engineered a planned walkout, cancelled meetings that were supposed to happen after that walkout (again -- remember that the owners cancelled the meetings; not the players), and now resorts to this claim just a couple of weeks after league spokesman Greg Aiello insisted that a settlement could come at the bargaining table, not in a court of law.

In truth, this is all to be expected -- these are the ugly machinations that happen during the initial stages of any labor battle. But now that the NFL has fired the first shot, and has done so in a way that its own spokesman said would not be the way to go, the figurative ball is in the court of the NFLPA.

One can only imagine what will happen next, but decertification is certainly on the table. The last time the NFLPA decertified was in 1989, in order to allow court cases that led to the birth of true free agency four years later. It is not surprising that at a time when they seem to want to eradicate all the benefits of free agency on both sides, the owners would seek to kill the device that made it possible in the first place.

And if you'd like to know where the players stand with this, a few recent tweets from Houston Texans right tackle and player rep Eric Winston(notes):

The NFL has reached that point where the kitchen sink is getting opened and every ridic claim will be tossed out. Enjoy the comedy people.less than a minute ago via Echofon

Also hypocritical that NFL says this can only be solved by negotiation and not litigation but files something 3 weeks before deadline afterless than a minute ago via Echofon

Walking out of a bargaining session. These guys are a real hoot to deal with. If anyone screams, "I want my cake and eat it too" it's them..less than a minute ago via Echofon