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Friday, July 22, 2011

NFL Agreement? Don't Count Your Chickens

The theme of my NFL blogging, which you can see here (post-Eighth Circuit hearing) and here (post-Eighth Circuit decision) is that the players' antitrust litigation strategy was really much more effective than the owners anticipated.  It totally reversed the usual roles you see in a lockout.  Generally, when an employer locks out its employees, it has time on its side.  The company closes its gates and waits for the workers to start missing paychecks.  (That's what's happening in the NBA.)  Ever since the district court enjoined the lockout, however, it's been the NFL owners who can't wait to get an agreement.  Check out this remarkable paragraph from ESPN's "Owners approve proposed lockout deal":

In their proposal, the owners told players that they must re-establish their union quickly for the proposed CBA to stand. The NFL also said it wanted evidence by Tuesday that a majority of players have signed union authorization cards.

In the history of labor relations, I don't think I've ever seen employers so eager for employees to (re) join a union.  In fact, the point of a lockout is generally to break a union -- or at least, a hoped-for side effect.  But the NFL owners can't wait to get the union back in place and, in effect, put back together the Humpty Dumpty CBA they foolishly pushed off the wall.

But wait -- maybe the players aren't all that eager to agree!  There's this ominous paragraph:

However, Smith wrote in an email to the 32 player representatives shortly after the owners' decision: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."

So what's going on?  The players' representatives are still working things through, but the NFL is using its vote to pressure the players into agreeing to the proposed CBA.  Otherwise, why would the lead owner in the negotiations say this?

"That's baffling to me," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio [in response to Smith's email]. "We believe we have handshake agreement with the players."

Although details are somewhat spotty, the deal looks like a decent one for the players.  At the very least, it's a much better deal than the owners were talking about when they first went to the negotiating table.  It's also a ten-year deal -- much longer than the standard 3 to 5 year agreement.  Why?  So the players can't bring another antitrust challenge for ten years.

But I think the players have smelled the owners' fear.  That's what this is about:

A high-ranking NFLPA executive committee member told Mortensen that the owners' approval "puts the onus on players to make a decision to agree -- paints us into a corner with fans. We'll discuss tonight but the idea of reconstituting as a union has never been a slam dunk as the owners have already assumed."

Said another high-ranking NFLPA official: "We are not happy here. We had to honor to not vote on an agreement that was not final (Wednesday). This is not over. This actually takes away incentives from players to vote yes tonight."

We'll see what happens with the eventual CBA details.  But the players have already won.

Posted by Matt Bodie on July 22, 2011 at 12:09 AM in Corporate, Current Affairs, Sports, Workplace Law | Permalink

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