The National Football League (NFL) is a high profile sports organization that contributes to the large and growing sports business market and is one of the most recognized corporate brands in America. Every Sunday millions of people watch professional football presented by this organization. Commercial slots for these games provides incredible amounts of revenue as products such as jersey’s, cable packages and season tickets contribute to this powerful organization. Integral to this corporation is the National Football Players Association (NFLPA) which is the labor union that supplies the league with players. The purpose of this essay is to examine the relationship between the NFL and the NFLPA to identify legal issues and obstacles that arise in their interaction in order to better understand the implications that unionized organizations promote in their business models.
Professional football is a very dangerous occupation and its players literally risk their lives and well-being in order to compete in the NFL to earn a living. The NFL has been in existence for almost 100 years and the NFLPA was incepted in 1956. In the past six decades, many labor wars were fought to achieve a balance of power between these two organizations. According to its mission statement the NFLPA; ” Represents all players in matters concerning wages, hours and working conditions and protects their rights as professional football players. Assures that the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement are met. Negotiates and monitors retirement and insurance benefits. Provides other member services and activities. Provides assistance to charitable and community organizations. Enhances and defends the image of players and their profession on and off the field.”(n.p)
Importance of Unions
According to Johnston (2010) the union organization process is responsible for providing a fair and balanced system between labor and employees. They suggest that employees unionize for a number of reasons: Dissatisfaction with current wages and benefits. Dismay with treatment by management, particularly first line supervisors. A perception that supervisors are playing favorites. A perception that supervisors are not listening to them. A perception that they are powerless within their organizations. The National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, provides the legal necessities of labor unions. This act was ratified to encourage collective bargaining, and to eliminate private sector’s labor unfair practices that violate workers’ civil rights.
According to NFLPA Regulations Governing Contract Advisor “these regulations were adopted and amended pursuant to the authority and duty conferred upon the NFLPA as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of NFL players pursuant to Section 9(a)of the National Labor Relations Act, which provides in pertinent part: Representatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for such purposes, shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees in such unit for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment.” (p.1)
Federal, State, or Local Laws That Could Be Broken
The NFL must abide by the National Labor Relations Act. According to the National Labor Relations Board ” Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy ” (p.1.)
Benefits of Joining the Union
The players benefit from joining the union because it offers them contract protections, health insurance and guaranteed minimum salaries. The NFL benefits by having the top talent play in their league.
The Unionization Process
Coenen (2005) claimed that “The NFLPA began when two players from the Cleveland Browns, Abe Gibron and Dante Lavelli, approached a lawyer and former Notre Dame football player, Creighton Miller, to help form an association to advocate for the players. Miller was initially reluctant but accepted in 1956. He contacted Don Shula (a Baltimore Colts player at the time), John Gordy of the Detroit Lions, Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the New York Giants, and Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams to aid in the development of the association. Representatives of 11 of the 12 teams in the league at the time joined the association; the Chicago Bears were the sole dissenter; by November 1956 a majority of the players signed cards allowing the NFLPA to represent them. The first meeting took place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in November where players decided on demands to be submitted to league commissioner Bert Bell ” (p. 181).
How a Union Bargains
The NFL an NFLPA conduct collective bargaining to reach agreements between the two parties.
NFL vs. NFLPA
There is a long and contested history between the NFL and the NFLPA where the results of many legal battles have changed the face of the game and labor laws in general. Since 1956 these struggles focused around the players right to work in safe environment while being fairly compensated. Much has changed during this time and many bargaining agreements have come and gone demonstrating the ability of unions to change, for better or worse, their members workplace scenarios. The 1974 strike where NFLPA members refused to play, contested the legal contract methods that prescribed the working conditions and pay of the players. Another players strike in 1982 dispute each parties’ right to increasing revenues.
The NFL continues to grow its fan base and its revenues. This year’s Super Bowl was the highest rated television event in the history of broadcasting demonstrating the influence these organizations have on the consciousness of the world. The plight of the NFLPA should be recognized as an example of union’s struggle that has the ability to shape the future of labor laws in the future. The collective bargaining discussions that occur every several years stand as fine examples that provide a litmus test for national labor relations and their practical worth for society.
Today, the NFLPA and NFL continue to debate each other in order to provide a solution to their respective problems. The issues today revolve around players’ safety and the increasing danger that now accompanies the game as it is played today. Professional football has a religious quality in America today as many people have a vested interest in the success of the league. It is important for these two groups to realize that they affect many people and insulating themselves in their own subjective interests threatens the game and their livelihood itself. Both parties stand to gain by recognizing this and not letting greed and hubris diminish their accomplishments over the last 60 years.
Coenen, Craig R. (2005). From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920-1967. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.
Johnston, S. (2010). Union Organization Process. Practical Law Company,2010. Retrieved from http://www.velaw.com/uploadedFiles/VEsite/Resources/UnionOrganizationProcess% [HIDDEN] %29.pdf
NFL Player Association Constitution. Viewed on 12 Feb 2013. Retrieved from https://images.nflplayers.com/mediaResources/images/oldImages/fck/NFLPA%20Constit ution%20-%20March%202007.pdf
NFLPlayers.com (2008). History of the NFLPA. 15 April, 2008. Retrieved from https://www.nflplayers.com/Articles/CBA-News/History-of-the-NFLPA-Part-1/
National Labor Relations Board. National Labor Relations Act. Viewed on 12 Feb 2013. Retrieved from http://www.nlrb.gov/national-labor-relations-act
McCormick, R. (1996). Interference on Both Sides: The Case against the NFL-NFLPA Contract. Michigan State University College of Law Publications Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 397 (1996). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.law.msu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1244&context=facpubs& sei- redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fhl%3Den%26q% 3 DNFLPA%26btnG%3D%26as_sdt%3D1%252C14%26as_sdtp%3D#search=%22NFLP A%22
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