NFL Wants To Meet With The Union, Not Trade Association


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The NFL labor dispute is full of so many ins and outs and legal mumbo-jumbo that even those of us who have been following the developments closely aren’t always totally sure about what the heck is really going on. That makes trying to convey understandable explanations of what is actually happening to you, our readers, extremely difficult.

In the past, some of the writers for this site, including myself, have taken the side of the players. We have also posted the opinions of readers that are on both sides of the fence. As always, we try to give you strong opinions here at Arrowhead Addict but we also try to give you a wide variety of opinions.

As we enter April, which side you support, if you support a side at all, seems to be becoming less and less relevant.

Since the NFLPA decertified, both sides have been telling anyone that will listen that they are willing to continue negotiations if the other side would simply play ball. Through all the sound bites, however, it seems that neither side is actually interested in continuing any sort of communication until the courts have has their say on April 6th, when a judge will hold a hearing concerning the players’ lawsuit against the NFL requesting relief from the lockout.

That is why I was surprised to learn today, that a potential meeting between the two sides was apparently turned down by the NFL.

According to John Clayton of ESPN.com, the players were planning to meet with NFL officials on March 28th to spend a week “settling this mess.”

Here is an excerpt from Clayton’s report:

“Lawyers for the owners refuse to meet with the settlement attorneys for the players unless the trade association identifies itself as a union, which the players won’t do at this time. The players, according to multiple sources, planned to meet with the owners March 28 and spend the week settling this mess. All that had to be done was have a short document go to federal judge Susan Nelson’s court saying that the NFLPA’s executive board would serve as advisors. The NFL’s answer was no. This will be the only way a deal can be reached. Like you, we all wish both sides would go to the bargaining table instead of the courts.”

The NFL turning down the opportunity to return to negotiations with the players seems to be in direct opposition to their statements that they will return to the bargaining table at any time.

I reached out to Greg Aiello of NFL PR for clarification. This is what Mr. Aiello had to say:

Patrick: We are interested in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. We wanted to continue negotiations at the federal mediation office based on our March 11 proposal, but the union walked away from negotiations and filed a lawsuit. We are not interested in discussing a litigation settlement. We are prepared to continue negotiations immediately over the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement and communicated that to the NFLPA  two weeks ago.

More desperate attempts to figure out and explain all of this after the jump.

You see, since the NFLPA decertified, they are no longer a union but a trade association. Once they did that, they filed an injunction to the courts claiming that since they are no longer a union workforce, it is illegal for the NFL to lock them out.

That is why, in Clayton’s quote above, he mentions that for the two sides to have met back on the 28th, a document would have to be filed federal judge Susan Nelson’s court, that the NFLPA executive board would serve as advisers.

What does all that mean?

If I understand this right, and God knows there is a big chance that I don’t, the document Clayton is talking about would basically say that the NFL wouldn’t use the proposed March 28th negotiations with the union’s executive board as proof in court that the players were in fact, still functioning as a union. Basically, if the NFL were to file that paperwork, they would be agreeing to meet with the union’s leadership to continue negotiations while admitting to the court that they weren’t meeting with the union leadership, but instead an advisory board that will advise the non-union workforce how to proceed. Without that document, if a meeting between the union executive board/advisory committee were to take place before the April 6th hearing, the NFL could use the meeting as further proof that the union decertification is a sham by pointing out that they met with the union leadership to continue negotiations after the expiration of the CBA and the decertification of the union.

Have you gone cross-eyed yet?

It sounds to me like the players wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted the NFL to continue negotiations while at the same time they are suing the NFL for locking them out.

As Aiello pointed out, the NFL is happy to meet with the players union but not with their newly formed, non-union trade organization.

Look, the NFL has a point. The decertification of the players union is a sham. They are, for all intents and purposes, still a union. Decertification was the union’s only chance at leverage. I believe they hoped that Judge David Dotty, who has made pro players union rulings in the past, would get the case once the players sued the league for locking them out. Unfortunately for the players, the case ended up on the lap of Judge Susan Nelson instead.

The fact that the players suddenly wanted to continue negotiations on March 28th, over a week before the hearing with Nelson, leads me to believe that the players don’t feel all that confident about their chances of lifting the lockout. If the judge agrees with the NFL that the decertification is a sham, then the union will have lost all it’s leverage.

The NFL, on the other hand, likely feels pretty good about it’s chances in Susan Nelson’s court. That is why it would be foolish to start negotiating with the players while the players are still pretending not to be a union and are in the process of suing them.

As Aiello said, the NFL is interested in meeting with the union in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. They aren’t interested in trying to settle the litigation and they aren’t interested in playing ball with the union’s fake trade association.

That being said, I still do not think the NFL is free of blame here. I still believe the NFL negotiated their TV deals with the intention of locking out the players until the union caved to their demands. The TV deal was a way for the NFL to continue meeting their financial obligations while putting pressure on the players who would eventually start missing game checks. I think this move was underhanded on the part of the owners and I think it was made with absolutely no regard for the fans or what impact missed NFL football games might have on others. Judge David Dotty apparently agreed and ruled that the deal the NFL negotiated with the TV networks was illegal.

For me, the TV deal the league negotiated is at the root of the problem here. The players had no reason to trust the owners would continue to bargain in good faith because the owners seemed to plan to lock them out all along by negotiation the TV deal. The NFl also turned down extra money that wouldhave gone to the players in 2009 and 2010 so that they could instead get that money all to themselves in the case of a work stoppage in 2011. Since the league was supposed to be working in the best interest of all of those sharing the TV revenue in 2009 and 2010, the deal damaged the players interest and violated the CBA. It is no wonder the players don’t trust the owners.

Now that the case is going to Susan Nelson instead of David Dotty, I reckon the players are getting nervous. There is no guarantee that Nelson won’t rule in their favor but their effort to try to continue negotiations before the hearing indicates that they wanted to make a last ditch effort at getting a deal done before potentially losing their leverage completely.

Judge Dotty ruled that it was illegal for the NFL to negotiate the deal for the TV money but he has yet to rule on what the fallout will be for the NFL. Chances are, regardless of what happens, the NFL will not get the TV money or they will have to pay damages to the players. Whatever the outcome, it likely won’t be as easy for the owners to ride the lockout as long as they could have before Dotty’s ruling. Still, the players are likely to feel the financial pinch before the owners, which could cause the players to begin to divide and push for a deal, giving in to some or all of the NFL’s demands. This would be the ideal outcome for the NFL.

As we’ve known for a couple of weeks now, it is all going to come down to what Susan Nelson decides later this week. Regardless of what she decides, there will likely be appeals by the losing side and the case could eventually find it’s way all the way to the Supreme Court. There is no telling how long this process will take to work itself out.

I think in many ways the players been given a bum deal here but if they lose the ruling in Judge Nelson’s court, I think they’d be better off just skipping the appeals process and returning to the bargaining table. Otherwise this thing could drag on into the fall and we really could miss football games, if not the entire season.

I just hope that whichever side ends up on the losing end of this deal will realize that they are better off just cutting their losses and giving up some ground rather than killing the golden goose and destroying the NFL.

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Tags: NFL Labor Dispute NFL Lockout