The NFL confirmed that it filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NFL Players Association on Monday.
The charge states that the players' union has failed to bargain in good faith as a result of its strategy to "disclaim interest" (or "decertify") and file antitrust litigation against the NFL following expiration of the collective bargaining agreement March 3.
The NLRB is an independent federal agency, based in Washington D.C., that enforces the nation's labor laws and referees labor-management disputes.
The league made the filing as a proactive measure to protect against possible decertification by the players' union.
The filing itself is a public document, in which the NFL claims the NFLPA has engaged in "surface bargaining" and tactics designed to avoid reaching an agreement before the CBA expires so the union can file antitrust litigation against the league.
NFLPA officials met with every team during the course of the season to vote on possible decertification in the event of a lockout or labor impasse, and the measure passed.
The NFLPA has rejected the claim against it and once again pointed out that league owners opted out of the current CBA. The union has previously said it expects the owners to lock out players.
The league's filing Monday stated that measures taken by the union, coupled with what would be widely expected to follow decertification -- an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL by an individual player or groups of players -- aren't aimed at reaching a new agreement.
The filing referred to this strategy as "a ploy and an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process, there being no evidence whatsoever of any (let alone widespread) disaffection with the union by its members. It is both the reason for and proof of the NFLPA's failure to approach these negotiations with a sincere desire to reach a new agreement at the bargaining table as opposed to the courthouse.
"The NFLPA's statements and conduct over the course of the last 20 months plainly establish that it does not intend to engage in good faith collective bargaining with the NFL after the CBA expires or otherwise meet its obligations under Section 8(d) of the Act, and that it instead will pursue its goals on behalf of the players by pretending to disclaim interest as their Section 9(a) representative and then sue the NFL under the antitrust laws. The union's strategy amounts to an unlawful anticipatory refusal to bargain."
The NFLPA decertified in 1989, then returned as a union in 1993, when a contract that provided for free agency was reached with the league. That landmark CBA was renewed or restructured several times since 1993, including in 2006. The owners opted out of that most recent deal in 2008.
The league's complaint refers to the NFLPA's past use of decertification and the fact that the union later reformed. To that end, the complaint states: "The NFLPA's threat to use a sham disclaimer of interest after expiration of the CBA is the same tactic that it employed in 1989 when its representatives falsely swore that its disclaimer was 'permanent.'
"The union's purpose in doing so is to evade its collective bargaining obligations under the National Labor Relations Act, to seek to use antitrust litigation to enjoin a lawful lockout, and once again attempt to achieve its bargaining objectives under the coercive guise of an antitrust settlement. This plan by the union has produced 20 months of surface bargaining as the union has run out the clock in order to disclaim interest after expiration of the CBA."
Under the heading "Basis of the Charge," the NFL said in the filing that during current negotiations, the union delayed the scheduling of bargaining sessions, failed to "respond in a timely and/or meaningful manner" to owners' contract proposals and insisted on "disclosure of financial data to which the NFLPA has no legal right and then suspending negotiations unless and until such data is produced."
The NFLPA issued the following statement after the NFL filed its claim: "The players didn't walk out and the players can't lock out. Players want a fair, new and long-term deal. We have offered proposals and solutions on every issue the owners have raised. This claim has absolutely no merit."
The NFL hasn't missed games because of labor strife since 1987, when the players went on strike and the owners continued the season with replacement players.
The biggest issue separating the sides now is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues; under the old deal, the owners receive $1 billion off the top, and they want to increase that to $2 billion before players are given their share.
Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games, a rookie wage scale and benefits for retired players.
The NFL and union went more than two months without holding any formal bargaining sessions, until a meeting Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once last week but called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.