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NBA players association alleges unfair labor practices

The union seeks an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board and an injunction against a threatened lockout.

May 24, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • NBA players association head Billy Hunter, left, speaks at a news conference with NBA Commissioner David Stern in 2005. The players' union claims the NBA has violated sections of the National Labor Relations Act.
NBA players association head Billy Hunter, left, speaks at a news conference… (Joe Cavaretta / Associated…)

NBA players on Tuesday filed an unfair labor practices charge against the league with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging "harsh, inflexible and grossly regressive 'takeaway' demands."

The National Basketball Players Assn. said it's seeking an immediate investigation by the NLRB, plus an injunction to stop the league's threatened lockout of players when the current collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30.

The union claims the NBA has violated three sections of the National Labor Relations Act in the months preceding Tuesday's filing.

"If some of these allegations are true, the totality of the conduct can be deemed bad faith," said Bill Gould, a former NLRB chairman and current Stanford law professor. "This is a shot across the bow" by NBA players.

The NBA issued a statement saying, "There is no merit to the charge filed [Tuesday] by the players association … as we have complied — and will continue to comply — with all of our obligations under the federal labor laws. It will not distract us from our efforts to negotiate in good faith a new collective bargaining agreement with the players association."

In the other major sports labor drama, NFL players in April sought to avoid a slow-moving NLRB process by asking a U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota to stop NFL owners from locking out their players.

An attorney for the NFL owners argued in a hearing that the NLRB — not the federal judge — had jurisdiction and was the only body empowered to determine if instituting a lockout was a legal "tool" to help strike a deal.

District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson sided with the NFL players and lifted the lockout, writing in her decision that the owners had an unfair advantage to maintain the lockout for the duration of the uncertain NLRB review.

A stay of Nelson's decision was later granted by a federal appeals court in St. Louis, and the court has scheduled oral arguments from both sides June 3.

The NBA case is different, Gould said, because the NLRB's general counsel will immediately work to explore the players' charge, and if a violation is believed to have occurred, the general counsel can issue a complaint to the four-person board.

The board can then vote to move the case to a U.S. court "in a matter of weeks, before the expiration of this agreement," said Gould.

Earlier this month, basketball players association head Billy Hunter, in a memo to players, reported the league is seeking a hard salary cap that would be a 22% reduction from the current $58-million soft-cap figure.

The union argued in its NLRB claim that the NBA has engaged in "classic 'take it or leave it' bargaining … intended to delay action on a renewal [collective bargaining agreement] until the NBA locks out the … employees in order to coerce them into accepting the NBA's harsh and regressive demands."

The league and players have a bargaining session scheduled during the NBA Finals in Dallas or Oklahoma City.

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