As the parties begin to converge on a federal courthouse in Minnesota for mediation that, if the right people are present, could potentially resolve the labor dispute, there’s one specific issue on which the owners needs to take a broader view — and to quit insisting on getting their way.
In 1993, when the Reggie White antitrust lawsuit was resolved, the parties agreed that some disputes would be resolved by binding third-party arbitration. Other disputes would go first to a Special Master and then on appeal to Judge David Doty, the judge who handled the White case.
Article XXVI of the expired CBA set forth the specific provisions of the labor deal that fell under the Special Master’s umbrella. Article XXVII vested powers in the neutral arbitrator, whose rulings were final and binding, without further appeal or oversight by Judge Doty.
For example, the “lockout insurance” case fell under the Special Master’s supervision. The infamous Terrell Owens arbitration of 2005 went to an arbitrator.
In practice, disputes occur infrequently. When they do, however, both sides want to win. Because the owners believe that Judge David Doty was biased in favor of the players — possibly because he dared to disagree with them from time to time — the owners want no federal oversight of the new CBA.
The owner feel so strongly about this that the league’s desire to avoid Judge Doty or any other federal judge has been characterized as a dealbreaker. It’s tough talk, and like much tough talk it’s highly impractical.
Every labor agreement has a dispute-resolution procedure that takes the fight out of the parties’ hands. Whether it’s a judge or an arbitrator or a coin flip or a game of pin the tail on the donkey, every CBA has a specific procedure for solving the issues that come up from time to time under the language of the agreement.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not worth fighting over how and where the disputes will be resolved. By obsessing over the possible involvement of Judge Doty and, now, Judge Susan Nelson, the league has made it into a much bigger issue. For which the NFLPA* will expect a much bigger concession.
The refusal of the owners to accept the fact that, from time to time, they may be wrong (and, for example, in the “lockout insurance” case, they clearly are) has created magnified the issue, making it into a possible dealbreaker. The league badly wants no federal oversight — and that’s making the players want it just as badly.
Here’s hoping that Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan’s first order of business on Thursday will be to speak to the parties in candid terms about this specific issue, in the hopes of getting both sides to understand that it’s not nearly as big of a deal as they’re making it out to be.