Blog Entry

Appeal ruling boils down to recognition of union

Posted on: May 21, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2011 3:50 pm
Posted by Will Brinson

The NFLPA filed their brief in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case just before midnight Friday, and led with a strong statement: "The NFL is a cartel."

But for as many zingers and strong language that exists in the brief, the argument that the panel of judges in St. Louis are really considering is this: "Are the players still a union?"

In their brief, the players argue that the NFL has not actually proven that the nonunionized players are arguing their case in the wrong place.

"The NFL does not cite any case that has ever held that disputes between employers and individualized nonunionized employees fall under the [Norris LaGuardia Act]," the players' attorneys wrote.

See, the Norris LaGuardia Act (NLGA) basically says that if there's a dispute between a employer and a group of employees in a union, that such a dispute needs to be resolved by the NLRB, and not by the court system.

So this -- "Are the players still a union?" -- is the dispute, legally speaking, that will decide whether or not we continue to have a lockout. If the Appeals Court believes/rules that the NFLPA truly disbanded, they'll lift the lockout. If they don't believe that, they'll leave the lockout in place, because, in their eyes, no court has jurisdiction over such a labor-related matter.

Here's the biggest problem, for those hoping the lockout will end: if the Appeals Court rules that the NFLPA broke up in good faith and is truly no longer a union (versus simply disbanding for legal leverage), they will establish a nightmarish precedent for themselves.
NFL Labor

Here's an example that may or may not simply be for the purpose of referencing The Wire, which is all the rage these days: If the Baltimore Union of the International Brotherhood of Stevedores decides it's being treated unfairly and wants to pursue litigation against its employer, Hypothetical Widget Shipping, Inc., it cannot dissolve the union, file a lawsuit and re-unionize later. At least not right now.

But it could -- potentially anyway -- do such a thing should the Appeals Court rule in favor of the players. (Edit: There is a difference between the status of sports leagues and other places of employ re: anti-trust status. But the point remains that the court would open itself up to a different interpretation of the law. Also, a better example could be: the NBA.)

This is problematic for the courts because it completely flips the jurisdiction of all labor disputes, if a union is willing to disband.

Remember, the Court of Appeals is pro-business; they're not "pro Roger Goodell." They don't care about this case in the sense of "How can we keep the players from winning?" They care about this case in the sense of "How does this effect future legal proceedings?"

Which is why it seems quite unlikely that the 8th Circuit will favor the players, regardless of how strong their arguments are.

Are there more issues? Yes. Are some of them stupidly complex? Absolutely.

But if you're going to boil the legal battle of the lockout down to one singular thing, it's whether or not a group of judges want to believe that the NFLPA has deunionized. Because of what they'd be setting themselves up for in the future, it's highly unlikely they'll rule that way.

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Since: Mar 1, 2011
Posted on: May 21, 2011 3:07 pm

Appeal ruling boils down to recognition of union

It seems that you fail to understand one thing here.  Most unions do not have an argument for anti-trust violations like the NFL players due.  The NFL restrains the trade on NFL player talent through the draft, restricted free angency and salary cap.  The fictional widget company does not do these things.  Stevedores can move to a different company or to a different toan and find comparable employment.  The option the players have taken is not one that most unions will have available to them.  Stevedores are a lot easier to replace than NFL players. 

I am sure someone will argue that replacement players will do a comparable job.  But think about the way that the NFL promotes its games.  It is ALL about personalities.  Manning vs Brady, Ray Lewis vs Rothesberger ... The known players are huge marketing tools for the NFL.  Even the images of ex-players are used to promote teams.  The Mighty widget company does not say "buy your widgets from us, we have Joe Blow, the greatest stevedore ever". 

Since: Dec 1, 2009
Posted on: May 21, 2011 3:04 pm

Appeal ruling boils down to recognition of union

Will, it seems to me that you're ignoring the precedent set by the findings in the case pursuant to the 1987 NFL strike. Given the politicized nature of the 8th Circuit, it's certainly possible that they will also do so, of course. However, that would result in conflicting Appeals Court rulings. Given the national significance and potential for immediate harm, I don't find it far-fetched to imagine that the Supreme Court would order an expedited hearing, nor that it would deliver an expedited verdict. The underlying issue here is freedom of association, which is anything but trivial or localized. 

As for your contention that a ruling here would have effect beyond sports unions, it's exceedingly dubious. Other industries do not operate as syndicalist monopolies, nor depend for their outsized revenues thereupon. Thus, there is no corresponding vulnerability on the part of these non-sport companies that the Unions might hope to exploit by decertifying. (The NFL's revenues and business model absolutely rely on the suspension of the antitrust laws. What so inflames many of the owners is the fact that this NECESSARILY makes the players, through their Union, true partners in their joint and several endeavors. See, these rich guys like to IMAGINE that they are bold entrepreneurs, rampant and naked CAPITALISTS. Anything but, of course. Sans their reprieve from the laws of these United States which govern their lesser brethren, they would be immeasurably less wealthy, as would the players. Being the arrogant folks that they are, these mighty poobahs cannot tolerate the notion that they are somehow, anyhow, on a par with their employees. It's not just a "greed" thing, but an EGO thing, which some of them--at least eight of them--cannot get past. Too bad, I say. Let them learn to deal.)

Since: May 6, 2007
Posted on: May 21, 2011 2:39 pm

Appeal ruling boils down to recognition of union

It's blatantly obvious they only broke up the union to file suit.  If the courts find in favor of the players in this they will get what they deserve in the future.  Every union who wants mor emoney is gonna "claim" they broke up and as soon as they get what they want reform their union.  This is just so obviously stupid.  If the  players think anyone is actually buying that they really broke up then they are on many more drugs then we were led to believe.  Wich is why they don't like testing I assume.  To the fans siding with the players you do realise ticket prices will continue to skyrocket as the owners make less and the players make more right?  Keep siding with those players though.  You are not to bright if you just assume the owners are gonna keep paying all the bills and not make a decent profit when this is first and formost a business.  (Wich the players so kindly remind us every time they are a free agent and chase money to a new team.)

Since: Feb 16, 2007
Posted on: May 21, 2011 2:04 pm

Appeal ruling boils down to recognition of union

it seems the players are still a union though they decertified.  leagal manipulation(b.s.)! shut up & just play! 

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