Russell Okung files lawsuit against NFLPA, accusing it of bad faith in CBA talks

Chris Cwik
·4 min read

The NFL Players Association’s collective bargaining negotiations just got uglier. Carolina Panthers lineman Russell Okung has filed a lawsuit against the NFLPA alleging the union is engaging in bad-faith negotiations, according to the New York Times.

Okung, 32, is on the NFLPA’s executive committee. He serves as a vice president under executive director DeMaurice Smith. Ten other players are part of that committee, which is led by former Houston Texans lineman Eric Winston, who serves as its president.

In Okung’s unfair labor practice charge, which he filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Okung accuses the NFLPA, and Smith, of going against the executive committee’s wishes and trying to force a vote on the new CBA proposal, according to the Times.

The three-page filing accuses the NFLPA staff, including its executive director, DeMaurice Smith, of forcing a vote on the deal over the objections of its executive committee, in violation of the union’s constitution. Okung also accused the union’s leadership of trying to muzzle him from speaking out about the lack of transparency with the executive committee about the negotiations with NFL owners, which began last year.

Okung’s primary complaint centers on the NFLPA moving forward with the new CBA proposal despite the executive committee’s wishes. The committee voted against the proposal twice already. Despite that, the NFLPA passed on the proposal to the 32 team representatives. That vote came back 17-14 after one rep abstained. The group needed two-thirds approval for the proposal to be sent to every member of the union.

Despite falling short of the two-thirds mark, the NFLPA sent the proposal to every member of the union. Players must vote on the issue by Saturday. The union had initially set an earlier deadline, but extended it by two days.

By pushing the deal forward, Okung argues the NFLPA has violated the union’s constitution.

Russell Okung of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Russell Okung isn't happy with the NFLPA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Why would Russell Okung file suit against the NFLPA?

As many players have expressed, frustrations are high regarding the new CBA proposal. Prominent stars, such as Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson, announced they would vote no on the proposal. Panthers safety Eric Reid called the proposal a “bigger disaster than we could have imagined.” Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Maurkice Pouncey was more profane, calling it a “bulls--- ass deal.”

As part of the executive committee, Okung is among the players most informed about the negotiations. It’s his job to make sure union members get the best deal possible. Okung — and the rest of the committee — don’t feel that way about the current proposal. Because of that, Okung is taking a more drastic step.

Russell Okung is up for the NFLPA president job

To make matters more awkward, Okung is one of the few players up to replace Winston as the president of the executive committee. Okung, Sam Acho, Michael Thomas (of the New York Giants) and JC Tretter are all vying for the position.

Winston — who has served as president for six years — cannot run for re-election since he wasn’t on an NFL team last season.

When will Russell Okung’s unfair labor practice charge be resolved?

It will likely be months before the issue gets resolved. The National Labor Relations Board first must consider Okung’s claim. If the NLRB finds sufficient evidence to move forward, it could be months before legal action begins.

Russell Okung’s charge is a bad sign for labor negotiations

By filing a lawsuit against the NFLPA, Okung is making it clear he feels NFL players are being pushed to accept a bad deal. That could explain why the NFLPA extended the deadline for players to vote. The union could be buying time in hopes it can convince more players to accept the deal.

If the deal is as bad as Okung and the executive committee suggests, the union is no longer operating in the players’ best interest.

It’s tough to understate the significance of that claim. Okung’s lawsuit hints at severe fracturing within the union. That’s not an issue that’s going to be resolved no matter what the NFLPA votes on the current CBA proposal.

This process could be drawn out and ugly.

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