Monday, July 11, 2011

NFL Labor Dispute: Punt Me a Piece of that $9 Billion Dollar Pie!

The labor game plan has the look of a bungled play called in the huddle by start quarterback Tom Brady.  The call went like this:  “de-certify” the players union.  That will free us from the collective bargaining and arbitration process, and allow us to sue the owners in federal court.  Why would we want to give up our union status to become a “trade association?”  The idea was to get a better outcome from a federal court on how to divide the $9 billion dollar annual revenue generated by ticket and advertising sales. 
The owners’ defensive response was to “lock-out” the players, that is, to shut down all negotiations, and end any talks with individual players regarding trades or salaries.  The players’ next play out of the huddle on second down was to go to federal court for an injunction requiring the owners to lift the “lock-out.”  They also went for the long pass:  they filed an antitrust suit, claiming that the lock-out and salary cap were forms of price fixing.  At the District Court level, the player’s appeared to have obtained another first down when their injunction request was granted.
The referee called the play back on appeal to the Eighth Circuit.  The Court ruled the trial court had stepped out of bounds in granting the injunction.  The violation was a little used Depression era law known  as the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act.  Basically, the law keeps the federal courts out of Labor Disputes.  The “union” turned “trade association argued the law didn’t apply to it once it “decertified” itself as a union.  The Eighth Circuit held the essential dispute was still a “labor dispute” covered by the “hands off” statutory language.  Sounds like a “face mask” violation to me. 
So what will keep the parties talking now that there is no compulsory good faith negotiation requirement under the federal collective bargaining laws?  How about the loss of all $9 billion for the 2011-12 season?   Will this madness for a larger piece of the pie leave both sides with pie in their face?  It’s not like you can just replace a $9 billion pie at your local pie shop.  The situation is reminiscent of the old 1960’s song “MacArthur Park”—“I’ll never have that recipe again.” 

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