Retirees file lawsuit against NFLPA, Brady plaintiffs

A group of 28 retired NFL players, including Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Chuck Bednarik and John Hannah, filed a federal class-action lawsuit Tuesday against the NFL Players Association, union president DeMaurice Smith, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady(notes) and former player Mike Vrabel(notes).

The suit claims that once the NFLPA decertified March 11, just prior to being locked out by the NFL, the defendants had “no authority” to negotiate, let alone agree to, the terms of retiree benefits during the labor dispute.

“They were not a union at that time,” Michael Hausfeld, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told Yahoo! Sports.

As such, any agreement concerning pension, retiree health care or other issues was not properly agreed, Hausfeld said. The suit seeks a declaration that the “right to negotiate with the League the rights and benefits for NFL retirees” rests with the Eller plaintiffs. Hausfeld said the lawsuit does not threaten the labor peace reached by last month’s collective bargaining agreement, which saved the 2011 season.

The 51-page suit was filed in United States District Court in Minnesota. George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, declined comment on the suit Wednesday evening. The individual players could not be immediately reached for comment.

[ More on lawsuit: Official complaint | Exhibit A | Exhibit B]

The goal of the suit, which represents all former NFL players, is “to readjust the deal to better reflect the interests of the retirees which would’ve been done by the retirees themselves,” according to Hausfeld, who represented Eller and other retirees during parts of the labor negotiation process.

“This deals with the rights of retirees and how they were shortchanged by a process that negotiated their rights without input from them and then [how the decertified NFLPA] reached an agreement without the retirees’ right to be heard,” Hausfeld said.

Brady and Vrabel, who has since retired and become an assistant coach at Ohio State, were singled out for being named participants in the since settled Brady, et al v NFL suit.

The suit includes 23 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Bednarik, Eller, Hannah, Dan Hampton, Paul Krause, Lemuel Barney, Mel Renfro and Elvin Bethea among others.

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“When the union decertified and relinquished all collective representative rights, it lost all labor law protection,” Hausfeld said. “The interests that they had historically compromised, in the context of collective bargaining, they no longer had the authority to compromise.

“After decertification they emerged having concluded an agreement with the league that fixed key benefits and rights for retirees.”

The suit claims current players used the retirees’ interests as bargaining collateral.

“The retirees rights were sacrificed for the benefit of the active players.”

Hausfeld said the CBA does address a number of critical concerns for retirees, but applies them to the current players.

“It addresses the safety and health of the active players that the older players were subject to, such as repeated concussions, helmet-to-helmet contact and being the guinea pigs for AstroTurf,” Hausfeld said.

This fits a trend, according to the lawsuit, which claims, “during recent years the NFLPA has consistently favored the interests of active NFL players at the expense of NFL retiree’s rights and benefits.”

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Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Sep 13, 2011