NFL players will seek to block lockout in court, sources say
NFL players are poised to decertify their union Thursday and immediately seek an injunction in court that would block a potential lockout of the players beginning Friday by the league's franchise owners, sources familiar with the preparations said Wednesday.
Both sides were making plans Wednesday for a labor confrontation that would begin Thursday barring last-minute developments in their negotiations that neither side expected, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations publicly.
Owners met Wednesday afternoon at a hotel in Chantilly near Dulles Airport. That meeting came after negotiators for the league and union met with a federal mediator for about four hours in downtown Washington.
A settlement between the two sides is not within immediate reach and only a postponement of Thursday's 11:59 p.m. bargaining deadline or a last-minute shift in strategy would change the NFLPA's plan to decertify and the owners intention to lock out players, sources said.
It was not clear early Wednesday night whether mediator George H. Cohen would ask the league and union to postpone their bargaining deadline. The current labor deal between the owners and players runs through 11:59 p.m. Thursday. A lockout by the owners could begin almost immediately thereafter, sources said.
But by then, it appears that the players are likely to have decertified their union. That move, in effect, will put the union out of business as the bargaining agent for the players and enable them to file antitrust litigation against the owners.
There have been speculation that the players' side would wait until after the expiration of the current labor deal to decertify the union. That might bolster the players' chances of prevailing in antitrust litigation against the owners. A clause in the current labor deal says that if players wait until after the agreement's expiration to decertify the union, the owners could not claim in court that the decertification is a sham.
But it appears the players will make the move Thursday, unless there's a postponement of the bargaining deadline or another unexpected development. Sources said the players' side wants to do all it can to keep the dispute under the jurisdiction of U.S. District Judge David S. Doty. The Minneapolis-based federal judge has overseen the NFL's labor deal since the longstanding system of free agency and a salary cap first was established in the early 1990s as part of a settlement of antitrust litigation by players. The players also decertified the union then.
The players apparently plan to seek a court injunction blocking a lockout when they decertify the union. Sources said that request for an injunction likely will be made to Doty and could come as soon as Thursday. It is unclear how quickly Doty would rule on such a request.
Sources also said the owners were prepared for a lockout beginning Friday. Several people within the sport said they believed the league would attempt to proceed with the lockout unless it was blocked in court.
Some legal experts have said a lockout after decertification could be risky for the owners because the lockout could be cited in antitrust litigation under those circumstances, with potential damages at stake. But other experts have said shutting down the NFL after decertification--it technically wouldn't be a lockout at that point, the experts have said--might be the least risky thing the owners could do at that point.
It appeared likely that the negotiators for the league and union would meet with Cohen at the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service again Wednesday night or Thursday morning, or both.
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