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Back-and-forth continues over whether union wants lockout

Goodell_Smith AP

On Wednesday, NFL outside labor lawyer Bob Batterman told the Washington Post that he believes the union wants to force a lockout, so that the union may then unleash political and litigation strategies aimed at leveraging the best deal for the players.  Batterman’s remarks represent the first time a member of the league’s negotiating team publicly acknowledged a sentiment that has been floating around both 280 Park Avenue and union headquarters for nearly a year.

On Thursday, the union responded — strongly — arguing via general counsel Richard Berthelsen that the suggestion that the players want a lockout “is coming from outer space.”

Batterman thereafter replied, via an interview with the Associated Press.  (Batterman also is scheduled to appear next Wednesday on ProFootballTalk Live.)

‘They can scoff all they want,” Batterman said.   “The players may not want a lockout.  I believe the union leadership and counsel want a lockout.”

Batterman then explained that the union wants to force a lockout so that the union can block the ability of the league to impose a true lockout.  Which, of course, does little to persuade us that the NFL isn’t planning to impose a lockout, at some point.

“Their strategy is to try and stop us from exercising our federally protected right to lock out,” Batterman said.  “It is a perfectly legitimate legal, economic weapon in collective bargaining.  These guys struck twice in the 1980s.  Nobody was screaming and hollering that they were against motherhood and apple pie when they struck.

“A lockout is no different than a strike, as I am sure you know.  It is just a question of who is pulling the trigger.  When a union wants to improve a contract, their weapon is to strike if there is no agreement.  When the employer wants to improve the contract, their weapon is to lock out if there is no agreement.  There is no moral turpitude involved if we get to a lockout, which may or may not happen.  They have decided that instead of fighting it out using traditional labor weapons, they want to try and avoid the lockout by going through this sham decertification process and trying to bring an antitrust lawsuit to try and stop us from locking out.  That is why I believe the negotiations are dragging, because they want to get to March 4 so that they can pull that trigger.”

Though we don’t want to lay out here too many of the questions we plan to ask Batterman on Wednesday, we see a huge difference between a lockout in truly private industry and a lockout (or a strike, for that matter) when it involves a multi-billion-dollar business that constitutes in many respects (including the many taxpayer-funded stadiums) a public trust.  Sure, locking out the players doesn’t constitute a criminal or immoral action.  But taking away one of America’s most beloved diversions, not only when the real games start but from March through August when millions start every day with a cup of coffee in one hand, a food item of some sort in the other, and a quick spin around the Internet regarding the things that their favorite team and/or the teams they hate are up to, people will become very upset, very quickly.

So why wasn’t it a big deal in the 1980s, when the players struck twice?  Because ESPN was still largely a tractor-pulls-and-Tiddly-winks operation.  (The first NFL contract on ESPN began in the second half of the 1987 season, weeks after the strike was resolved.)  Because the Internet was still at least decade away from its arrival as a mainstream, daily source of gathering information and disseminating opinion.  Because the NFL wasn’t nearly as big as it was in 1982 and 1987 as it is today.

In many respects, the NFL is a victim of its own success.  It’s too big to shut down.  In his heart, Commissioner Roger Goodell surely knows it.  His challenge is to get enough of the owners, blinded by their individual balance sheets, to see it, too.

Even Batterman seems to realize the potential damage of a lockout, but he also seems to be intent on recommending the league to impose one, if need be.

“No employer in its right mind wants to shut down its business,” Batterman said, without mentioning the reality that employers in their right mind do it all the time.  “There is damage when there is either a strike or a lockout.  It is not in the employer’s interest to shut down the business.  It is in the employer’s interest to get a deal which gets this industry straightened out for the next generation for the good of the fans, for the good of the players, and yes indeed, the good of the owners.  Nobody is looking for a lockout.  We are looking for a deal.  Is that deal going to require some concessions from the players?  Yes, it is going to require some concessions from the players because the balance has gotten out of whack.  The owners are going to make concessions, too.  We are making changes to working conditions.  We have made proposals to improve benefits for the players.  We have talked about structures to protect the veterans in terms of what the impact of these economic changes are.  There are going to be compromises on both sides, and we are hoping to do it without the necessity of a lockout.”

In order words, they’ll lock out the players if they think they need to.  And they don’t like the fact that the union has a silver bullet for blocking a lockout, via decertification of the union and the filing of an antritrust lawsuit, after the NFL imposes common work rules to 32 separate businesses.

The league doesn’t like this approach, because it reduces the league’s leverage over the players.  When Batterman says that “[t]heir strategy is to try and stop us from exercising our federally protected right to lock out,” he’s essentially saying that the union has come up with a way to prevent the league from putting the players’ collective nuts in a vise and squeezing until they agree to whatever terms the owners are proposing.

Like the league’s right to impose a lockout, the union has a right to decertify and file suit.  And the league has the right to attack the decertification as a sham and to defend the antitrust lawsuit, which could be a very weak antitrust lawsuit, if the owners carefully craft work rules that allow for free movement between teams after individual employment contracts expire.

Here’s the bottom line.  The generation of labor peace that soon could be ending was spawned by a strike, a decertification of the union, an antitrust lawsuit, and a negotiated settlement of the antitrust lawsuit that became the first version of today’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.  In other words, a deal eventually was done.  And football continued while the legal wheels churned over a period of multiple years.

The league apparently would prefer to pull the plug on the game, since it will likely get the owners a better deal by forcing the players to cry “uncle” after missing a couple of game checks.  The union’s strategy (in Batterman’s view) consists of finding a way to continue to let the players work — and thus for the game to continue — while a deal is worked out.

When considered that way, it should become very easy for the fans to pick a side in this fight.  One approach potentially results in a period of no football.  The other approach results in no period without football.  Though the league may argue that the football won’t be as compelling until a proper financial compensation system is put in place, we’re reaching the pinnacle of one of the most compelling football seasons in league history despite the fact that the labor dispute has been reaching a boil in the background.

So, basically, at a time when the owners are thinking about themselves and the players are thinking about themselves, it’s appropriate for the fans to think about themselves.  The fans, in our view, should support the path that results in the continuation of football, and then to leave it to the stewards of the game to find a way to make that happen through the negotiation of an agreement that is fair to all sides, either at the bargaining table or after decertification of the union.

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23 Responses to “Back-and-forth continues over whether union wants lockout”
  1. savocabol1 says: Jan 14, 2011 7:55 AM

    This is dumb, even if the union truly wants a lockout they will never admit to it

  2. larryfinfan says: Jan 14, 2011 8:13 AM

    Hey Mike…want you stories about the NFL and NFLPA negotiations to get more hits….here’s a suggestion?

    Stop referring to it as a “lockout” or “strike”. What fans will understand and sit up and take notice to is if you call it what it really is…. Refer to this as an NFL work stoppage. That’s non-denominational in guilt and it means the very thing fans simply don’t want to see…a stoppage in NFL football.

    I could care less what it’s called, I’ll be pissed if any portion of the offseason and/or the preseason/season is affected by these greed mongers known as NFL owners and NFL Players…

    So, call it what fans understand the most. After it’s said and done, I could care less whether it’s a lockout or strike…I’ll be upset if there is a stoppage in work, period…

  3. birdobeamen says: Jan 14, 2011 8:32 AM

    How stupid can people be?

    This hurts the Owners, it hurts the Players and it hurts the Fans.

    If all sides understand it would be a bad thing for this lockout to happen, why can’t they come to a formidable conclusion?

    Idiots.

  4. WingT says: Jan 14, 2011 8:36 AM

    It would be a lot easier for me to pick a side if I could see the financial details of the NFL teams.
    But the owners are never going to open their books.

    If they don’t play in 2011 I will just watch college football. It’s more entertaining to watch anyway.

  5. zoxitic says: Jan 14, 2011 8:39 AM

    Billionaires and millionaires spitting in the face of the fans that make them all that money.

    Disgraceful.

  6. solgoode says: Jan 14, 2011 8:50 AM

    If a prolonged lockout does occur, can the individual states or cities, the ones with publicly-funded stadiums, sue the NFLPA and the league, for any lost tax revenue that would normally have been applied to those initial loans/bonds, or are they out of luck?

  7. bleedblue18 says: Jan 14, 2011 9:12 AM

    The Players Union does not want a lockout. They already came out a year ago and said they were happy to extend the CBA way it is now. The same CBA the Owners and Players agreed to in 2006. It’s the Owners who want to change the deal and threaten a lockout. Owners are the one’s that sound greedy. Everything we hear about the NFL is it is growing and growing in TV revenue, merchandise sales, ticket sales, and fans year after year. But now the Owners want to change a deal they were all OK with just 4 years ago even though they revenue is still growing. Rediculous, Greedy Billionaires.

  8. biggerballz says: Jan 14, 2011 9:15 AM

    I hope they lockout, these players are always whining about everything. Oh I’m retired and wasted all my money, pay me! 75% of these players wouldn’t be doing anything if there wasn’t football they would be doing manual labor or working at walmart. The owners have to put all the money down and now these guys instead of being grateful for making millions a year for playing a game just want more. No other company has 51% of income going to employees, that’s just bad business.

  9. raiderinpa says: Jan 14, 2011 9:51 AM

    Cmon boys, get it figured out already!….

    When its your job to do nothing but sit around all day and discuss the issues, how much time does it really take??

    Figure it out and GET BACK TO F#$KING WORK!!!

  10. randolph32 says: Jan 14, 2011 9:58 AM

    They may, in the end, be best off with a mediator…

  11. richm2256 says: Jan 14, 2011 10:03 AM

    I can’t believe that either side is stupid enough to not see the damage that ANY work stopage – be it a strike or a lockout – would bring to their golden goose.

    The NFL has become huge, the biggest sport in the country. One would think that the players and the owners can easily see the harm done to Major League Baseball and the NHL by work stopages in those sports in the past, and act to prevent an action that will no doubt result in a backlash that could kill all the growth and popularity that have benefitted both sides for so long.

    Fans are not going to care whether the players struck or the owners locked them out. All we’ll think is that these morons were too stupid to figure out a way to fairly slice up the zillions of dollars that they are lucky enough to get for this game, and that they uglied up our favorite sport by taking it away over who gets what of too much.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  12. Pacific NW Mark says: Jan 14, 2011 10:40 AM

    While it’s hard to generate a whole lot of empathy for either side here, I can’t help but come down on the side of the players… they are the ones who make the plays, take the hits, and ultimately barter their short and long term health for a contract.

  13. universalcynic says: Jan 14, 2011 10:50 AM

    I remember a few years ago when I stumbled on this site I was impressed by your coverage of the NFL and NFLPA.

    I don’t always agree with you. But I do like these pieces a lot.

  14. jefeweiss says: Jan 14, 2011 10:54 AM

    I can’t believe the owners hired Batterman like the NHL strike was some kind of success story. They went from ESPN to the Outdoor Life Network. By the time they return to anywhere near the level they were before they players are going to want more money. I think it probably did more to strengthen international hockey that might compete with the NHL then anything else.

    Batterman is not making any sense. The players want a lockout so they can decertify so they can avoid a real lockout. Well, that sounds a lot like they don’t want a lockout. In fact, if they don’t decertify before the (fake?) lockout, they have to wait six months to file their anti-trust suit. The players have more to lose in the short-term than the owners do, especially with the structure of the last TV deal. I bet you see a lot of players in the UFL or other leagues, just to keep the lights on.

    I guess you can say bad things about the players, but I think that the owners are definitely more in the wrong. Sure the players get paid a lot to play a game, but football is a very dangerous sport and a lot of players end up with life long problems. Some poor schmuck who makes the league minimum for a couple of years and then can’t walk right for the rest of his life didn’t get all that great a deal.

  15. savocabol1 says: Jan 14, 2011 10:56 AM

    I am selfish because (I don’t know why but…) I want to see my Browns play next year. However, if there is a work stoppage for some or all of the season I won’t be that upset. So rich people aren’t going to continue to get rich, OH NO! I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. No matter what they say it is all about money. All this talk about the players being told to save their last few checks is crazy. I’m sorry but if these millionaires can’t save their cash that’s their own fault. Don’t sit here and talk about how you can’t support your family (aka lavish lifestyle).

    I do feel for the unintended consequences such as background employees/parking attendants/ect who support each team potentially out of work.

  16. biggerballz says: Jan 14, 2011 11:00 AM

    “Pacific NW Mark says:
    Jan 14, 2011 10:40 AM
    While it’s hard to generate a whole lot of empathy for either side here, I can’t help but come down on the side of the players… they are the ones who make the plays, take the hits, and ultimately barter their short and long term health for a contract.”

    How’s that different than a firefighter or a police officer or a soldier? They don’t make mininum 300k. Just like every other job you sign up knowing the risks versus the reward. It seems in America we are obsessed with self-obsessed players and reality tv trashstars.

  17. FinFan68 says: Jan 14, 2011 11:28 AM

    I really don’t see how many people are automatically siding with the players because the owners happen to be billionaires. The NFL’s revenues have gone up but so has the cost of doing business. When increased cost cuts into total revenue the owners are the ones that “lose” money because the players’ share remains the same. This entire fiasco is caused because the players want to be treated (and the owners have allowed this) as “partners” rather than employees. The players believe they should make more money simply because the owners make money. They are basing their compensation strategy on an overall percentage of “company” revenues instead of on their collective or individual merit. The totals do not matter. What matters is whether the players are compensated appropriately for what they do (without factoring in anything that has to do with the owners). I can’t see a reasonable argument that can be made for the players to make more money. I believe they are more than fairly compensated for what they do. The team/game is the product…the players are merely temporary pieces that help make up the NFL. These players could all walk away today and the NFL could get others to take their place. There would be an initial hit but the NFL would remain and fans would still root for the players that ultimately are on their team of choice.

  18. radrntn says: Jan 14, 2011 11:30 AM

    what a crock, how many other businesses in America get 5 billion dollars to share when they shut down…get real

  19. goodjet says: Jan 14, 2011 11:56 AM

    Hey, I didn’t even read this long long article due to I have a life —– I’ll worry about it all when the season is over but I’m expecting the (INCREDIBLY) (INCREDIBLE) (INCREDIBLY) pathetically greedy owners and the greedy players to do the WRONG thing and mess everything up —- That’s what I’m expecting and if something else happens (something good for instance) I’ll be very very happily—————————————————————————————————–SHOCKED!

  20. childressrulz says: Jan 14, 2011 12:38 PM

    Go players. Screw the dusty ol farts.

  21. joerevs300 says: Jan 14, 2011 12:42 PM

    Here’s what the owners and the players don’t seem to understand.

    No matter which one “blinks first” whether the owners lock them out or the players go on strike, the public (and fans) WILL NOT CARE who did it first.

    All they are going to care about is when their preseason football is gone, and then their regular season football is gone, and they will blame BOTH parties, because let’s be fair here, both parties ARE to blame for this mess.

    And both parties are going to have to make concessions if there is to be a 2011/2012 NFL season.

    And THAT is not going to happen until the players stop getting paid and all of a sudden realize what it’s like to have to try and pay for health care, a mortgage, cars, etc. with a REAL working job, and not just one you do 16-20 weeks out of the year. Most of the players didn’t even realize their health insurance was 2,500 a month! I’m willing to be some have mortgage’s that are double that at least…

    Otherwise…the biggest beneficiary is going to be MLB.

    And up until the past couple of days I would have said the UFL…except when one of your franchises folds and you can’t pay your players their final check, that usually isn’t a good sign.

    Hello XFL and the USFL. The UFL will be joining you soon.

  22. 23chameleons says: Jan 14, 2011 1:31 PM

    These owners made or inherited wealth. Some founded their teams when the NFL/AFL began. Some risked BILLIONS that they likely didn’t have in cash to buy into the league. They took their risk and it’s paid off for them.

    If the current NFL players don’t want to play for the millions of dollars they’re getting now, there are a lot of hungry college kids, CFL & UFL players who want the fame and fortune that come with making an NFL roster.

    Until the players find someone else willing to pay them equal to or more than the NFL owners are, how much leverage do they really have ?

  23. WingT says: Jan 14, 2011 4:05 PM

    As a fan it is impossible to pick a side in this battle without seeing the financial side of the teams – the owners need to open up the books.

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