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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - NFL players are defending their decision to disband the union, saying employers cannot force workers to unionize, and dissolution is “not akin to turning off a light switch.”
The players made the statements Monday in a court document filed in response to the NFL’s assertion decertification was “a sham.”
“It is established law that a union can renounce collective bargaining to enable its workers to protect themselves from antitrust violations,” lawyers for the players wrote in the filing.
Lawyers for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and six other NFL players are asking a federal judge to halt a lockout imposed by owners, saying an injunction is needed to “stop the irreparable harm being inflicted today.” A hearing on the issue is scheduled for April 6 in St. Paul, Minn.
The players say that prior court decisions have made it clear the right of workers not to unionize is absolute. The players disclaimed their union, gave up the right to strike, to collectively bargain and to have union representation.
“The players sacrificed these labor law rights for one reason: to gain the ability to assert antitrust claims against anticompetitive restrictions imposed by defendants,” lawyers for the players argued on Monday.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, “There are no surprises or arguments we did not expect. The union’s lawyers still fail to come to terms with the jurisdictional principles that bar an injunction in this case.”
Last week, the NFL wrote in response to the lawsuit to ask that the lockout be kept in place, accusing the players of trying to manipulate the law with what the league deems a baseless antitrust claim. The NFL also argues that any legal decision on the lockout should wait until the National Labor Relations Board rules on an unfair labor practice charge against the now-dissolved players’ union.
The players argued that the NLRB proceedings could take years, thus there is no basis for the court to wait to tackle the issue.
The “claim that it was bad faith for the NFLPA to renounce its union status is absurd,” the court document said. It added that the NFLPA was re-formed as a union because of a court settlement, and that it existed as a union for nearly 20 years, “with renunciation occurring only after two years of fruitless collective bargaining.”
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson is scheduled to hear arguments on the injunction next week.
The current players say they can’t afford to wait for the NLRB to conclude its investigation and issue a ruling. The lockout has shutdown free agency, prevented player movement and kept players from working out at team facilities.
“Players are suffering irreparable harm now, before games are lost … Absent immediate injunctive relief, it will be impossible to turn back the clock or quantify in damages these lost opportunities,” the filing said.
A group of retired players filed their own lawsuit as well on Monday, seeking to gain class-action status with the current players against the NFL. Hall of Famer Carl Eller, three-time All-Pro Priest Holmes and two other ex-players want the lockout lifted to ensure their pensions and health benefits remain funded.
According to the lawsuit, those benefits can end if a collective bargaining agreement is not renewed by next March 11 _ a year after the last one expired.
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