With the NFL and NFLPA battling in federal court, virtually months away from agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement, they both find themselves in the longest labor dispute in NFL history.
March 11 is the day I started my first class of Court Football. I feel like a first-year law student who was given Brady et al (plaintiff-appellees) v. NFL (defendant-appellants) as my case study assignment, which just happens to be the most popular sport on the planet and the most visible court case on the docket.
My extent of studying law was at the University of Washington, in a business class that hit hard. Now, I have found myself learning and gaining knowledge, along with establishing legal sources, while developing the ability to research the law and cases that relate to this present NFL battle. I have found myself doing basic and in-depth legal research to quench my thirst for practical skills and efficiency when combing through previous NFL case studies.
As a former systems analyst in computers for the Boeing Corporation and the Carolina Panthers LLC (15 years of experience), those skills have come in handy the last few months, and served to help in the research and analysis of this case. I continue to learn the fundamental aspects of the civil and corporate litigation process in the United States court system, including the bargaining process; the analysis of legal problems; the use of a variety of legal materials; and the filing system, which includes briefs, addendums, appearance, motion, disclosure statements, method of appendix preparation, declaration in support of motion, certificate of transcript, judge order, argument response and clerk order.
What is extremely interesting is the filing of an interested party/amicus/intervenor brief by a major professional sports association, like the NBA, MLB and NHL. The brief says the case presents “vitally important issues” for the unions and their members. The associations thus go on to say that professional athletes’ careers are short, and the loss of even part of a season causes personal and professional injures for which no form of compensation exists.
I’m sure there are some sort of legal practice workshops in the school of law to aid law students. For me, this case assignment of NFL vs. NFLPA has not entirely prepared me for the rigors of (and the writing skills necessary to cover) briefs, motions or and contracts. But, it has forced me to read information in this case that I call lawyer jargon, legalese, and anachronistic fluff. I find myself reading sections of the documents repeatedly in order to gain the understanding of the meaning.
One of the most recent briefs filed by the NFLPA referred to the NFL owners as the “cartel,” meaning a combination of independent business organizations formed to regulate production, pricing, and marketing of goods or products by the members. That reference was quite interesting at first, but as I do my research, I arrive at the realization that such a term is actually used in law documents.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act (1932) is an interesting read and is tied into this case study. Both Norris (Nebraska) and LaGuardia (New York) were Republican Senators who carried the flag to institute this act. Some background:
1. Declared any “yellow dog” contract (under which an employee promised not to become a member of any labor organization) to be unenforceable in any court of the United States.
2. Deprived federal courts of jurisdiction to issue injunctions against peaceful striking, assembling, patrolling, or publicizing facts in connection with a labor dispute.
3. Defined “labor dispute” as broadly as possible to encompass any controversy concerning the terms and conditions of employment or representation.
4. Provided that in any dispute where an injunction might be issued (when harm to person or property is threatened), the federal courts must comply with stringent procedural safeguards, including a prior hearing under oath in open court with cross-examination.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act established many intriguing parameters. For instance, most collective bargaining agreements contained a pledge by the union not to strike for the life of the agreement, but to submit all disputes to binding arbitration. Yet from time to time, employers refused to arbitrate a disagreement, or employees went on strike in spite of contract promises. In these cases, the courts were willing to grant injunctions on the theory that the policy in favor of arbitration was more important than Norris-LaGuardia.
An important area of Norris-LaGuardia concerned labor disputes under the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the railroad and airline industries. Conflicts in those industries have been divided into “major disputes,” which relate to the negotiation of new agreements or provisions, and “minor disputes,” which concern the application or meaning of labor agreements. Under the Railway Labor Act, minor disputes must be resolved by mandatory arbitration, while major disputes were channeled through a lengthy negotiation process.
If a major dispute is not settled during the negotiation period, the employer is free to change the terms of the agreement unilaterally and the union is free to strike or picket. The courts have accommodated the seemingly conflicting provisions of the Railway Labor Act with Norris-LaGuardia by holding that the mandatory provisions for resolving minor disputes should prevail over Norris-LaGuardia and that injunctions may be issued against any party who fails to follow the prescribed procedures. So far as major disputes are concerned, however, once the parties have exhausted the steps of the negotiating procedures, Norris-LaGuardia bars the issuance of injunctive relief against economic pressure whether or not that pressure is allowable under the Railway Labor Act.
Norris-LaGuardia has been read in the broadest terms to permit unions and civil rights groups to use picketing and boycotts in controversies not normally categorized as “labor disputes.” The case of New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Company (1938) concerned picketing by an association of African Americans to induce companies to employ more African American clerks. The Supreme Court held that because the controversy was over employment, it was a “labor dispute” and federal courts could not prevent the picketing.
Although the Norris-LaGuardia Act was originally passed to set a policy for the immediate and indefinite future, as events actually occurred that policy was abandoned by the federal government after a very short period of time. The statute has survived major policy reevaluations and has remained a vital component of present law.
I don’t see my case study coming to an end anytime soon, with the NFL owners and the NFLPA headed to St. Louis on June 3 to give their arguments in front of the three judges of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Both sides will be limited to 30 minutes, and the three wise men presiding over the matter will subsequently hand down a ruling.
Organized team activities (OTAs) and rookie mini-camps have already been canceled. Next on the potential chopping block: June’s rookie symposium, training camp in July, August’s Hall of Fame Game and, of course, the start of the regular season. Free agency is the only scheduled event that has been completely bypassed because of the lockout, but it will take place once the lockout is finally lifted.
In short, both sides are dug in like ticks; both sides feel they have leverage. The driving force in this case is revenue – the root of all evil, clouding the minds and judgment of grown men. The bottom line is the damage, and the toll it will ultimately take on the game of football, the fans and the economy will be disastrous. While I continue to learn a lot about the law in this case study, I ran across a pay-scale range that lawyers make by the hour. It is astronomically crazy, and maybe that’s one reason why they can’t come to an agreement.