From the moment that players dissolved their union March 11 and filed the Brady et al v. National Football League et al antitrust lawsuit, we knew the recertification of that union would be a key step to reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. That process took center stage in the labor talks Thursday.
Here are some very quick, basic answers to questions that might help make some sense of the legal issues:
What role will the union play for the owners?
Under federal labor law, a union acts as the exclusive representative for the players for purposes of collective bargaining. The union is then empowered to negotiate -- on behalf of all players -- a CBA with respect to "rates of pay, wages, hours of employment and other conditions of employment."
Does the union have to reform before a settlement of the Brady case is reached?
No, the players can agree to settle the Brady litigation before reforming their union.
Does the union have to reform before a CBA is reached?
Yes. Without a union to represent the players in collective bargaining, there can be no CBA.
Why do the owners want the players to reform their union?
Because of a doctrine known as the "non-statutory labor exemption." This exemption immunizes the terms of a CBA from attack under antitrust law. Essentially, players are required to choose labor law (and collective bargaining) or antitrust law (and individual bargaining and antitrust litigation). If the players choose labor law and negotiate a CBA with the owners, an antitrust shield is raised that prevents them from attacking NFL rules under the antitrust laws. The players tried to lower this shield March 11 by dissolving their union and filing an antitrust suit against the NFL. The owners want that antitrust shield raised again -- they don't want to be subject to antitrust attack by the players. Thus, the owners want the players to re-form their union and enter into a CBA.