Federal Judge Hears Argument in NFL Labor Dispute Case.

Posted: April 6, 2011 in Robert J. Romano

The National Football League finally had a change to argue before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson today its position that the decertification of the players’ union is “a sham” and that this labor dispute is a matter for the National Labor Relations Board.

The players countered with the fact the players’ association decertified themselves as union after collective bargaining negotiations broke down and then rightfully filed an antitrust suit against the NFL and the owners for locking them out. They argued that since there is no collective bargaining, the federal court has jurisdiction and the court should enter an order lifting the lockout.

“The NFL wants to tie your hands … don’t do anything, and kick it to the NLRB.” That could take “weeks, months,” argued the players’ attorney.  If, however, the lockout were lifted, it would put the players back to work under “the status quo.”

Judge Nelson indicated, but did not find, that the court may have jurisdiction over the issues surrounding the NFL lockout and had a hard time understanding how the court can protect a lockout in the absence of a players union. “How could the owners lock them out? “Does that mean the players [after decertification] can strike?” she asked.

The NFL responded that just because the NFLPA no longer exist, does not mean the owners are instantly in violation of antitrust laws. The argued that the lockout is merely “a timeout,” stating, “It’s not an indefinite lockout. Because the lockout grew out of collective bargaining, it should be permitted.”

Additionally, the NFL declared, “no court has ever said we’re going to enjoin a lockout. … To take that action would fly in the face” of the legislative history of labor law.”

Judge Nelson acknowledged a court has to balance the role of the NLRB with the “irreparable harm” that the players would feel if the lockout continues, but kept returning to the fact that the players are no longer in a union.  Judge Nelson did not make a ruling from the bench so all parties, including the fans, will have to wait in see how she rules.

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