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Decertification of NFL and NBA Players Unions Allows Antitrust Litigation

This past summer was very tense for diehard football fans as the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement and federal antitrust lawsuits threatened the entire NFL season.

The NFL Players Association and NFL representatives spent months negotiating how best to divide $9 billion worth of revenue, as well as how much compensation new draft picks could receive. The tension mounted, and according to Yahoo Sports, the NFL was at serious risk of cancelling regular season games for the first time since 1987. In fact, the two sides were so far apart that the NFLPA decertified (disbanded its union status), opening the doors to federal antitrust litigation and its remedies.

NFL Union and Antitrust Law

Unions are treated differently under federal antitrust and federal labor law: so long as a union exists, its members are prohibited from bringing certain lawsuits against an employer. While certified, unions and employers have a duty to bargain in good faith on essential employment topics (although this does not require either party to agree to particular contract provisions).

However, unions are no longer barred from antitrust and labor law remedies if they decertify - a union's "nuclear weapon" according to Gabriel Feldmen, Associate Professor and Director of the Tulane Sports Law Program. For example, as reported by the NFL, once the NFLPA decertified, 10 players including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning filed suit and accused the league of conspiracy and anticompetitive practices. If successful, treble damages could have been awarded and the owners would have been prevented from locking out the players (owners do not have to pay employees who are "locked out").

The owners counterclaimed with an unfair labor practice charge, alleging the NFLPA violated its duty to bargain in good faith. A court ultimately ruled that the NFLPA was allowed to decertify, but according to ESPN the NFL and the Players Association finally agreed upon a new collective bargaining agreement. Before this could go into effect, however, the NFL had to settle several of the 10 lawsuits, while others were dropped.

NBA Labor Dispute

Although the NFL is back in action and more popular than ever, the NBA and its players are currently at odds on their new CBA. Several weeks of the season have already been cancelled, and it is looking more likely that the entire 2011-2012 season will be lost. The NBA Players Union is in talks to decertify, especially after they saw how effective it was for the NFLPA.

Everyday Disputes

While these disputes involve billion dollar industries, many individuals and businesses do not require union decertification or federal litigation. Everyday American's and many businesses may turn to arbitration to solve their disputes: either a non-binding or binding alternative avenue to dispute resolution. Speak with an experienced arbitration lawyer immediately if you need to resolve a dispute to discuss your rights and legal options.

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