NFL Contract Dispute Illustrates Classic Workers’ Compensation Issues

February 21, 2011  |  

The Superbowl is over, but the labor fight between the owners and the players is still heating up the headlines.

This week, the National Football League (NFL) and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) are engaging in a last ditch effort to find common ground before contracts expire for current players and to save the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is set to expire early next month.

In an unusual twist of fate, the NFL is trying to stop the decertification of the NFLPA. The NFL has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that a possible NFLPA’s decertification would violate the union’s duty to bargain in good faith. Members of the NFLPA have voted for decertification of their union in event that the CBA is not renewed. The move would allow the players to then file antitrust lawsuits against the NFL while potentially blocking the ability of the NFL to lock out players if negotiations fail.

The issues at hand relate to revenue shares, expansion of the season, a rookie salary cap and healthcare. NFL owners say that because of the high cost associated with the salary cap system, as well as the bad economy, they can no longer afford many of the terms within the current contract.

However, the players argue that the League is still financially healthy, thanks in part to lucrative TV revenue, great attendance and marketing partnerships. They are requesting the League to open the books to prove their financial hardship, to which the League has declined to do.

The last time players decertified the union was back in 1989 – two years after a 24-day player strike that failed to produce a contract with the NFL. The decertification triggered about 20 individual lawsuits against the League, including a threat of class action suit by former Philadelphia Eagle Reggie White, and helped to create the free agency back in 1993.

The NFL’s current labor deal expires March 3 and the union has said it expects the league to lock out players. With time running off the clock, it doesn’t look very good that a new agreement will be reached by then.

For most people, it is hard to have sympathy for the financial woes of a bunch of over-paid and spoiled millionaire athletes, especially considering that most Americans are struggling to hold on to their jobs and benefits.

But while the average NFL salary is $1.1 million, the median salary in 2009 was roughly $770,000. So, that means that even though the highest paid players can make $7-8 million per year, most players make much less than that. Not to mention, most NFL contracts are not guaranteed, so even if a player signs a contract worth $15 million for five-years, it is highly unlikely the player will ever see the full amount of his million dollar contract. Instead, the amount he makes will start low and increase each year, and odds are that the contract would be restructured or a player will be cut before it expires.

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