SBD/Getting On The Board Early/Leagues And Governing Bodies

NFLPA Seeks Authority To Decertify, Gives Players Voting Cards

The NFLPA has "begun handing out voting cards that would allow players to authorize the decertification of the union, a move that could prevent the NFL from locking players out when the collective-bargaining agreement expires in March," according to Liz Mullen of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources said that the NFLPA plans to ask the players on all 32 teams "to vote to authorize decertification when NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith visits each club on his annual fall tour of locker rooms." A letter sent to players states, “The cards will allow us to maximize the protection of your interests and rights when the CBA expires." Mullen reports if the NFLPA did decertify, it would in essence "operate as a trade organization but cease to be a union." Should the NFL try to lock out players, the NFLPA "could sue the NFL under U.S. antitrust laws and contend the league was conducting a group boycott, which is illegal." It could not sue the NFL if it remained a union with collective-bargaining authority. The letter states that if the NFLPA "were to wait until after the CBA expires to decertify, it could not sue the NFL for six months." If the union were to try to decertify, the league "would likely sue the NFLPA, challenging the decertification as a 'sham' and saying the NFLPA was still acting as a union but only filing to gain access to the antitrust laws." A source has previously said that the NFL "would have a strong case," because the NFLPA decertified in '89, only to become a union again in '93. Decertification would also allow the union to legally challenge any NFL plan to unilaterally implement a new labor system (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/13 issue). NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST's Andrew Brandt wrote decertification is a "bullet in the gun in the arsenal that the union has available, although a bullet that the union really does not want to use" (NATIONALFOOTBALLPOST.com, 9/12).

SAINTS PLAYERS AGREE UNANIMOUSLY: ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen cited sources as saying that Saints players "voted 59-0" to authorize the NFLPA to "decertify as a union if collective bargaining talks should eventually reach an impasse." Smith "asked the Saints to vote on the strategic procedure when he met with the team in New Orleans," and the team "voted on the issue" last Monday. The union "will send a memo to its approximately 1,900 members Monday to inform them of the strategy that is being described as a housekeeping step." Smith said Saturday, "To be dead honest, it's purely procedural and I believe it's a non-story until March. It preserves the best options to protect players in the event there's no deal in place when the CBA expires next March. Instead of scrambling at the 11th hour to get all our players' signatures (for decertification), we'll have everything in order. Our hope is that it's not necessary." A union source said that NFLPA officials are "scheduled to meet with three or four teams this week," including the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins. The union "expects to complete the process with all 32 teams by Thanksgiving" (ESPN.com, 9/11). YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar wrote it "has been clear for a while now" that while the NFLPA under late Exec Dir Gene Upshaw "preferred to hash things out at the negotiating table, the Smith-led NFLPA would be just as happy to take these matters to court, where it has defeated the league soundly in several recent cases." But there are "disadvantages to decertification." There would be "no collective bargaining for the players, essentially making this a last-ditch move to keep football going as the union kills itself to live." There also would be "no grievances to be filed on behalf of the players" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/11).

PLAYERS WANT ANSWERS: Browns LB and player rep Scott Fujita said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent visit to the team's training camp, "I don't know what I expected ... but I expected a lot more than he gave us. ... Guys are concerned. They want to know. And as the commissioner and kind of the mouthpiece for the owners, you would think he could provide at least some of those answers instead of almost being like an empty suit." Fujita "had dinner with the commissioner that night for nearly an hour, and he peppered him with questions about how roadblocks in negotiations might be overcome." Fujita: "We talk all the time about (the league) opening up (its) books, and I said, 'Hey, if it gets a deal done, what's the harm? That would tell us whether profits are up or down or even flat.' He really couldn't provide an answer other than, 'You know, that's just how it is'" (USA TODAY, 9/13).

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: In Charlotte, Peter St. Onge in a front-page piece reported Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson "again finds himself a public, if quiet, face of the league's labor negotiations." Private Sports Consulting Principal Max Muhleman, a friend of Richardson's, said of the labor situation, "I don't think there's anything he's more consumed with" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/12).

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