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National Football League Retirees Sue Union Over Contract

National Football League players favored current players and rookies over retirees in negotiating a labor contract with the league, retirees said in a lawsuit.

Current players shortchanged them in negotiations with the league, cutting back a commitment to increase pensions to pre-1993 retirees and changing post-career medical options, retirees said in a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Minneapolis. The retirees are suing as group, seeking class-action status to represent all retired NFL players.

Current players and the union have a “conflict of interest” in representing retirees, former players said in the complaint. Ex-players Carl Eller, Chuck Bednarik, Lem Barney and 25 others asked the Minnesota court to set aside issues related to retirees in the current contract and require renegotiation.

The union and current individual players “had no authority to negotiate with the league the terms of pension, retirement, and disability benefits with respect to the class of retired NFL players,” Eller and the others said in the complaint. The retirees asked the Minnesota court to give them bargaining rights and benefits with the league.

The NFL declared a labor lockout on March 12 after talks to create a new collective bargaining agreement failed and the players association said it no longer would act as a union. The lockout ended in July after the league and players reached an agreement.

‘A Tradeoff’

“There was a tradeoff for the benefit of currently active players, free agents and rookies” in the new contract, Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for the retirees, said today in an interview. “We’re talking about the rights of people who are no longer players and have no employment relationship with the league.”

George Atallah, spokesman for the National Football League Players Association, declined to comment.

The lawsuit names as defendants the players union, its executive director, DeMaurice Smith, and players Tom Brady and Mike Vrabel. Brady and Vrabel were among a group of players who sued the league and its teams, claiming violations of U.S. antitrust laws. Their lawsuit, filed in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota, was dropped after players and the league agreed on a new contract.

The case is Eller v. National Football League Players Association, 11-cv-02623, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (Minneapolis).

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