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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

NFL labor dispute moves to the courts after union decertifies



Negotiation turned to litigation Friday as the NFL Player’s Association decided to punt future labor talks and put their game in the hands of lawyers.

In a statement Friday, the union announced it has filed paperwork to decertify, beating the midnight expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement by several hours.

NFL owners are expected to respond by locking players out of the club facilities as early as this weekend.

Meanwhile, pro football fans have no idea how long stadiums will remain silent and can only participate in the blame game.

The reason for decertifying is so individual players can file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. Since the league operates as a monopoly, it would be violating federal labor laws by restricting trade. The NFLPA also filed for an injunction asking a judge to prevent the lockout.

The union will become a trade association and can no longer represent players. They will re-organize as a union once an ruling is made.

"The NFL Players Association announced today it has informed the NFL, NFL clubs and other necessary parties that it has renounced its status as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the players of the National Football League,'' the NFLPA announced in a statement. "The NFLPA will move forward as a professional trade association with the mission of supporting the interests and rights of current and former professional football players."

The announcement came after a 16th day of labor talks with league owners in Washington, D.C. office of federal mediator George Cohen.

At 4:45 p.m., NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said significant differences remained in labor talks with the league. As a result, the union requested 10 years of audited financial records accompany any request for an extension of labor talks. NFL owners failed to to agree to that financial transparency by the 5 p.m. deadline and the union filed for decertification.

Friday’s events set the stage for a summer of legal scrimmages with federal judges serving as referees to split the more than $9.3-billion in revenue for the most popular sport in America.

What it means is that there will be no on-field action or communication between players currently in the NFL and employees of the teams. Players immediately lose all their insurance benefits. Team doctors will be allowed to monitor the progress of injured players, but not at the club's facility. There will be no free agency or trades. The NFL will hold its annual draft, but once those players are selected and have their introductory news conferences, they can have no negotiations or communication with the team that selected them.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers plan to strictly enforce a league-imposed gag order on labor matters. 

Talks disintegrated late Thursday, with representatives from both sides trading barbs in public on television and Twitter. Union members were irritated they never met Thursday with members of the NFL’s labor committee.

The NFL made some financial concessions in a new proposal Friday as talks resumed. But as promised on his Twitter account, Smith updated players on talks at 2 p.m., Friday and told them that the union still planned to decertify.

"We worked hard. We didn't reach an agreement, obviously,'' NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell said. "The union walked away from the mediation process today. We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players, for the clubs. And we believe that ultimately, this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table. They've chosen to choose another strategy and that is their choice. But we will be prepared to negotiate an agreement and get something done that is fair to the players and fair to the clubs.''

Quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts, Tom Brady of the Patriots and Drew Brees of the Saints have agreed to be among the chief litigants against the owners when they are locked out. Players also will ask for an injunction from U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who last week ruled the NFL violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement when it negotiated $4-billion in payouts from television networks in the event of a lockout.

Despite more than two weeks of mediated talks, the two sides were unable to close the gulf on how to split more than $9.3-billion in revenue. NFL owners already take $1-billion off the top and were asking for another $1-billion when talks began. That amount was lowered to $650-million, according to Smith.

NFL negotiators said they made some big concessions Friday, offering to 'split the difference,' on many issues, including guaranteeing contracts for more than one season in the event of injury. agreeing to a rookie wage scale, not expanding the regular season to 18 games for at least two years, reducing off-season workouts by five weeks and limiting contact in preseason and regular season.

"We're discouraged, we're frustrated, we're disappointed, but we are not giving up,'' said Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator. "We know this will be resolved in the negotiating process.''

Giants president and CEO John Mara said he believed the player's union was never interested in negotiating a deal.

"One thing that became painfully apparent to me during this period was their objective was to go the litigation route,'' Mara said. "I think they believe that gives them the best leverage. I never really got the feeling during the past two weeks that they were serious about negotiating and it's unfortunate because that's not what collective bargaining is all about.''

[Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 6:55pm]


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