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Arena League, Players Strike Tentative Accord

January 26, 2001|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Arena Football League and its players struck a tentative labor agreement Thursday, allowing the league to seek dismissal of two legal cases and allowing players to choose between two proposed unions.

The agreement would settle an antitrust case filed against the league by several of its players and a slate of unfair-labor-practice charges filed against the league by the National Labor Relations Board.

"This would really resolve all that and allow us to focus on building the league," Commissioner C. David Baker said.

League owners last February threatened to cancel the 2000 season, after several players filed the antitrust suit in U.S. District Court. The players formed Arena Football League Players Assn. (AFLPA), with the backing of the NFL Players Assn., but did not unionize because a collective bargaining agreement would have exempted the league from the antitrust litigation.

League owners later recognized the rival Arena Football League Players Organizing Committee (AFLPOC) as the official union of AFL players. The league and the AFLPOC negotiated an interim labor agreement, and the season was restored in full.

The players involved in the AFLPA complained to the NLRB, which discovered evidence that the league illegally assisted the AFLPOC in its formation, recognized it without the support of an "uncoerced majority" of players and released a player in retaliation for his opposition to the AFLPOC and support of the antitrust suit.

Thursday's agreement must be approved by the District Court and the NLRB. In settlement of the antitrust suit, and without acknowledging wrongdoing, owners agreed to pay $5 million in damages, to be split among of a pool of at least 1,500 players, AFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. The league also agreed to withdraw its recognition of the AFLPOC, Kessler said, and the AFLPOC agreed to refund union dues.

Under the agreement, the NLRB would hold an election so players could choose whether they desired a union and, if so, whether they prefer the AFLPA or AFLPOC. The new union would then decide whether to honor Thursday's labor deal, which raises the minimum wage from $900 to $1,400 per game and guarantees players 63% of gross revenue.

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