Update (12:35 pm EST): The NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement on the court's ruling of the lockout, making it pretty clear that things are not too drastically altered by the ruling.
"While we respect the court’s decision, today’s ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation. We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come, and allow for a full 2011 season."
That's exactly what everyone wants to hear from the two sides. Hearing/seeing and doing are two different things, though.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has made its ruling: The lockout put in place by the NFL owners is legal.
Which is bad news for the NFLPA.
Just like the rest of its rulings in regards to the Brady v NFL case, the Eight Circuit was split in its decision. Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton ruled in favor of the NFL, while Judge Kermit Bye dissented. Read the entire ruling right here (.PDF).
The ruling was not a surprise, especially based on what the judges wrote in their permanent stay ruling in May. The timing was pretty shocking, though, especially since it seemed like the two sides were getting closer on a deal for a new CBA.
How this ruling will affect the lockout is unclear at this point, but if the owners wanted some (but, really only some) leverage, now they have it.
Here are a few keys from the ruling:
- When the NFLPA decertified, the association claimed that the NFL could not go ahead with the lockout, because there was no union anymore -- basically the players claimed the owners couldn’t keep out a bunch of independent contractors. The Eighth Circuit, though, disagreed that the NFLPA could decertify for that reason.
The text of the Norris-LaGuardia Act and the cases interpreting the term “labor dispute” do not require the present existence of a union to establish a labor dispute. Whatever the precise limits of the phrase “involving or growing out of a labor dispute,” this case does not press the outer boundary. The League and the players’ union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement for almost eighteen years prior to March 2011. They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years through March 11, 2011. At that point, the parties were involved in a classic “labor dispute” by the Players’ own definition. Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA’s expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status, and the Players filed this action seeking relief concerning industry-wide terms and conditions of employment. Whatever the effect of the union’s disclaimer on the League’s immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the Players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining.- But the court raised an interesting issue in regards to free agents and rookies not under contract. Basically, the majority opinion writes the NLGA does not cover people who are not employed because there is no employer-employee relationship. If the rookies had signed a contract, then they could be locked out. But perhaps not now.
Instead, Judge Nelson would have to hold hearings with witnesses (and with cross-examination) in order to determine where the NFL could legally lockout those free agents and rookies.
Since the Court rules that Nelson didn’t consider the potential irreparable harm to free agents and rookies in her reasoning for lifting the lockout, the Court invalidated her ruling. And then remands the whole thing back to Nelson.
- The player did get back some leverage when the court expressed “no view on whether the League’s nonstatutory labor exemption from the antitrust laws continues after the union’s disclaimer.”
So, that might be something for the NFLPA to argue at some point. Is the NFL really exempt from antitrust law? The trade association could move ahead with that part of the case, which could be a worry to owners.
Initially, the court ruling sounded really bad for the players, but after looking through it all, it’s not quite all ice cream and sunshine for the NFL.
- Bye gets off a pretty good zinger in his dissent:
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Through its holding in this case today, the majority reaffirms the wisdom of the old French saying … : “the more things are legislatively changed, the more they remain the same judicially.” … Despite the repeated efforts of the legislative branch to come to the rescue of organized labor, today’s opinion puts the power of the Act in the service of employers, to be used against non-unionized employees who can no longer avail themselves of protections of labor laws. Because I cannot countenance such interpretation of the Act, I must and hereby dissent.”