Washington Law Review

Comment

The Lesson of the 2011 NFL and NBA Lockouts: Why Courts Should Not Immediately Recognize Players’ Union Disclaimers of Representation

March 01, 2013 | 88 Wash. L. Rev. 281

Abstract:  The NFL and NBA lockouts of 2011 challenged the limits of the balance courts have struck between collective bargaining protections and antitrust liability. In each lockout, the respective players’ union argued that the bargaining relationship with team owners ended once the union disclaimed interest in continuing as its players’ bargaining representative. The players further argued that with the bargaining relationship terminated, the nonstatutory labor exemption no longer shielded owners from antitrust liability for their cooperative agreements and activity. Ultimately, both lockouts settled without courts deciding whether a disclaimer of representation marks what the Supreme Court has described as an “extreme outer boundary” that is “sufficiently distant in time and in circumstances” from the bargaining process such that the nonstatutory labor exemption might no longer protect employers from antitrust liability. This Comment argues that courts should be wary of recognizing disclaimers as terminating the exemption in the wake of the 2011 lockouts. Instead, courts should extend the exemption for a reasonable period following disclaimer. By doing so, courts would reduce the possibility of introducing instability and uncertainty in the bargaining process, which the Court has recognized in the past as a significant concern. Such an extension also would help separate deserving antitrust claims from mere bargaining tactics while allowing the economic pressures facing both sides to shape their ultimate agreement.

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