SBJ/August 29-September 4, 2011/Labor and Agents

Coaches group may consider becoming a union if NFL won't discuss restoring benefits

Now that the NFL has a new 10-year labor deal with the players, the head of the NFL Coaches Association wants to sit down with team owners and talk about restoring benefits coaches have lost over the last several years.

Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, said the organization may consider becoming a union if the NFL does not wish to begin discussing the improvement of benefits, including restoring pensions and the leaguewide health plans for coaches that some clubs took away the last few years. The coaches association was formed in 1996 as a trade association.

“We believe the owners will address our issues this fall now that the CBA is done,” Kennan said. “We really feel confident that they will do so. But if they don’t, we have to explore our options,” acknowledging that one of those options is forming as a union.

The NFL declined requests for an interview for this story and declined to answer whether league officials would be willing to meet with the coaches association.

Kennan said last week that he is not sure all coaches would support the idea of forming a union. One coach told him all 18 assistant coaches on his team would be in favor of it, while another told him only two or three of the coaches on his club would support it.

A majority of assistant coaches would have to vote in favor for a union to be formed. While there is some legal debate as to whether the coaches could form a union, because coaches are sometimes viewed as management, some legal experts believe a coaches union could be formed so long as it were to exclude head coaches. Head coaches would likely fall under the legal definition of supervisors and would be excluded from being union members.

Kennan drew public criticism earlier this year when coaches around the league said they had no knowledge of and did not support an amicus brief the association filed in support of the players in the Brady v. NFL antitrust case. Coaching staffs at clubs including Washington, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Jacksonville released statements saying they opposed the filing.

“We were not supporting anyone,” Kennan said of the filing. “We were saying we didn’t want a lockout because that would negatively affect coaches.”

NFL owners in 2009 voted to allow teams to opt out of the league-run pension, retirement and 401(k) plans for club employees and coaches. A number of clubs subsequently took action, canceling pensions as well as a leaguewide standard health insurance plan.

Kennan said he met with team presidents and general managers in the last year and told them coaches would like to talk about reinstating certain benefits.

Kennan said he did not ask these club officials to make the changes last fall as parties were in negotiations for the new CBA and were bracing for the lockout.

“They told us that about two or three months after the CBA gets settled, then we would like the coaches issues to be addressed,” Kennan said.

A decision to reinstate benefits would have to be made by NFL owners, Kennan said. “But the general managers and the head coaches have a lot of influence with the owners,” he said.

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