League asks judge to wait on ruling

BY Alex Marvez • March 21, 2011

The NFL's legal jousting with the NFL Players Association continued Monday.

The league has petitioned a Minnesota district judge to wait before she considers ruling on a preliminary injunction that would lift the NFL lockout.

The initial hearing on a 10-player lawsuit alleging NFL antitrust violations is scheduled for April 6 by Judge Susan Nelson. The lawsuit asks for an end to the lockout that was imposed March 11 when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired and the NFLPA filed for decertification as a union.

Lifting the lockout would force the NFL to establish working conditions that likely include the start of free agency and offseason workouts. All contact between NFL teams and players is currently prohibited.

The NFL has asked that Nelson wait until a ruling is made by the National Labor Relations Board about whether the NFLPA's decertification is permissible. The NFL claims the decertification is a sham because the NFLPA continues to operate as a de facto union. League attorneys also believe the NFLPA will reform as a union after a new labor pact is finalized. One league official referred to the decertification Monday as a "fake suicide."

In excerpts of the filing released by the league, the NFL claimed that the "National Labor Relations Board will likely conclude that the NFLPA has not engaged in the good faith, unequivocal renunciation that the (National Labor Relations Act) requires. It likely will issue an order requiring the Union to resume collective bargaining negotiations with the NFL member clubs."

"They say they're not a union," an NFL official said Monday. "There's only one organization with the authority to decide that issue -- the NLRB."

Negotiations between the two sides ended after labor talks collapsed on March 11, resulting in the NFL's first work stoppage in 24 years. League officials said Monday that the NFL wouldn't engage in talks with attorneys from the class-action antitrust lawsuit, which essentially puts CBA negotiations on hold indefinitely.

Brady vs. the NFL includes star players Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. All 10 players involved are also asking for financial damages.

Even if Nelson denied the NFL's request and ordered the lockout lifted, league officials said Monday they would appeal that decision. That would likely extend the NFL/NFLPA negotiating impasse even longer.

"If there was an order to go back to work, we'd seek a stay in the district court and then the court of appeals," an NFL official said. "I'd be surprised if the judge ordered us to play under certain rules. That's not what the players are asking for. The record doesn't really address specific rules. If the judge were to grant the injunction, I think there would be an order saying what we are prevented from doing, not what we are required to do."

Another NFL official said, "You can't be sure exactly what would happen. If we're ordered to go back to work under the antitrust laws, how do we go back to work in a fashion that doesn't violate the antitrust laws? That's a question that if the court were to grant an injunction an end of the lockout, one of the things we'll say to the court is that there's incongruity.

"This is such an unusual situation where a court is being asked in a labor dispute to force employers to end a lockout in the context of which the plaintiffs are alleging that ending the lockout and continuing business would in itself be an antitrust violation. I think it's an extremely difficult issue for the courts to figure out what to do with."

NFL counsel and lead CBA negotiator Jeff Pash said team owners and some general managers were briefed Monday morning "about the full range of alternatives in terms of possible litigation outcomes and steps we would take in response to the litigation." Asked about what player rules the league would operate under if the NFL was ordered to end the lockout, Pash said, "We really haven't gone to the stage of focusing on that. Right now, we're concentrating on two things: planning for the 2011 season under what we hoped are new, agreed-to terms with the players association and the immediate litigation issues."

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