ST. LOUIS (CN) – A federal judge ignored federal law by lifting the National Football League’s lockout of players, the 8th Circuit ruled.
In a 2-1 decision, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found that U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision to lift the lockout in April did not conform to the provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Nelson found that NFL players were suffering irreparable harm from the lockout.
“They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years through March 11, 2011,” Judge Steven M. Colloton wrote in the majority opinion. “At that point, the parties were involved in a classic ‘labor dispute’ by the players’ own definition. Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA’s expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status, and the players filed this action seeking relief concerning industry-wide terms and conditions of employment. Whatever the effect of the union’s disclaimer on the league’s immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining.”
The decision does not apply to players not currently under contract – free agents and rookies. Those players can request an evidentiary hearing with Nelson to determine if the lockout applies to them. The ruling also allows the players to re-file their antitrust case in federal court in September.
Judges Duane Benton and Colloton were the majority. Judge Kermit E. Bye wrote the dissenting opinion.
“Despite the repeated efforts of the legislative branch to come to the rescue of organized labor, today’s opinion puts the power of the Act in the service of employers, to be used against non-unionized employees who can no longer avail themselves of protections of labor laws,” Bye wrote. “Because I cannot countenance such interpretation of the Act, I must and hereby dissent.”
Both sides have been meeting regularly to resolve the labor impasse since the hearing before the 8th Circuit on June 3.
The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, the first teams to open training camp, are set to open their respective camps on July 22 if an agreement can be reached.