NFL Owners Win Bid to Keep Lockout in Place During Appeal

National Football League team owners can continue their labor lockout of players while awaiting a ruling on their appeal of a federal judge’s order that they end the ban.

The 32-team league is appealing U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s order directing it to lift an embargo on player transactions and access to team facilities. Nelson ruled on April 25 that the suing players showed they would probably suffer “irreparable harm” if the lockout continued.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis yesterday granted the owners’ stay request, enabling them to maintain the player ban they first imposed on March 12 until the panel rules on the merits of the NFL’s challenge to Nelson’s order.

“The district court gave little or no weight to the harm caused to the league by an injunction issued in the midst of an ongoing dispute over terms and conditions of employment,” the appellate panel said in its 2-1 decision.

The appeals court will hear argument from both sides on the merits of the owners’ challenge on June 3.

Ten players led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning sued team owners on March 11 to prevent the anticipated lockout.

Antitrust Laws

The athletes claimed NFL policies are anticompetitive and violate U.S. antitrust laws. The National Football League Players Association announced that day that it would no longer function as a union.

Players’ and owners’ representatives resumed mediation yesterday with the assistance of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan in Minneapolis. The parties had met before him for four days of talks last month.

The two sides reconvened for a 4 1/2-hour session before Boylan today. They will meet again on June 7.

“The mediator took it very seriously,” retired Minnesota Vikings player Carl Eller told reporters after today’s session. “It’s going to be all progress from here.”

Attorney Michael Hausfeld, who represents the group of retired players who also sued the league, told reporters after yesterday’s mediation session ended that the owners had made a proposal to resolve the dispute.

Declining to offer specifics, the attorney described the owners’ offer as a “framework” for the operation of the league and its relationship with the players and the retirees.

“It’s probably not one that is acceptable as is, but it is a starting point and it opens a dialogue,” Hausfeld said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, in an e-mailed statement, said the litigation pulled the parties away from the negotiating table where he thinks the issues should be resolved.

‘Comprehensive Agreement’

“It is now time to devote all of our energy to reaching a comprehensive agreement that will improve the game for the benefit of current and retired players, teams, and, most importantly, the fans,” Aiello said.

The league spokesman declined to comment on Hausfeld’s statement, saying Boylan had directed that mediation discussions remain confidential.

Citing the collapse of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, the league’s owners locked out the players at midnight March 12, hours after the players filed their lawsuit.

The two sides disagree on the division of $9 billion in league revenue as well as extension of the regular season to 18 games from 16, a salary cap for first-year players and health care for the athletes.

NLRB’s Jurisdiction

Attorneys for the New York-based NFL maintain the dispute belongs before the National Labor Relations Board and that Nelson had no jurisdiction to order an end to the lockout.

Ruling in the league’s favor yesterday, appeals court judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton said they had “considerable doubt” about Nelson’s conclusion that the players’ case could remain in court because they’d disavowed their union.

“Given the close temporal and substantive relationship linking this case with the labor dispute between league and the players’ union, we struggle at this juncture to see why this case is not at least one ‘growing out of a labor dispute,’” Colloton and Benton wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge Kermit Bye dissented.

“Whatever harm may be said to befall the NFL during the pendency of the expedited appeal stands in stark contrast to the irreparable harm suffered by the players,” who will lose opportunities to advance or sustain their careers, he said.

Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appellate panel today, supporting the owners’ efforts to overturn Nelson’s lockout-lifting order.

“Although this case involves a dispute between an extraordinarily successful sports league and the well-paid individuals who play the game,” Chamber of Commerce lawyers told the court, “multi-employer bargaining most often occurs in sectors of the American economy that could hardly be further from the glamorous and highly visible setting presented here.”

A labor lockout is part of a process to move parties from stalemate to negotiation and not an end unto itself, the organization said.

“The prospect of self-help forces the parties to make difficult choices,” according to the chamber’s brief.

The Washington-based organization claims more than 300,000 dues paying members and indirectly represents more than 3 million businesses and organizations that have joined its constituent groups.

The National Hockey League also submitted an appellate brief in support of the NFL’s owners.

The case is Brady v. NFL, 0:11-cv-00639, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul). The appeal is Brady v. National Football League, 11-1898, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (St. Louis).

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