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Old 02-26-2011, 11:30 PM   #1
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Default NFL lockout would trace to late Yankees owner

NFL lockout would trace to late Yankees owner
By Bob Cohn, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, February 27, 2011

With his free-spending ways and win-at-any-cost mindset, George Steinbrenner is seen by many as a contributor to the financial excesses and problems that often plague major league sports.

While no one is blaming the late New York Yankees' owner for the contract deadlock between the National Football League and the players' union, there's a connection between his former Cleveland shipping company and the lockout the NFL is threatening to impose on the union this week.

American Shipbuilding Co., which provided most of the funds Steinbrenner used to buy the Yankees, won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that for the first time gave employers the legal right to lock out workers as an offensive tactic to put pressure on unions.

This is the same scenario the National Football League Players Association faces by 11:59 p.m. Thursday without a contract agreement or deadline extension. A lockout would jeopardize the 2011 NFL season.

Although lawyers agree that lockouts rarely occur during typical labor disputes, they have become part of the American sports landscape, thanks in part to Steinbrenner's old company. A lockout canceled the 2004-05 NHL season and has impacted other leagues. Now the NFL is threatening to use it.

In a landmark case, American Shipbuilding v. National Labor Relations Board, the Supreme Court ruled in 1965 that a company could take the initiative to lock out employees as a bargaining tactic because it would correlate with unions' right to strike. Steinbrenner, who died in July, merged his family's Cleveland shipping business with American Shipbuilding two years later. In 1973, he led a group of investors that bought the Yankees for $10 million.

Until the ruling, lockouts were considered to be "defensive," said Jim Prozzi, a Downtown labor lawyer who represents management. As a hypothetical example, he cited four separate employers negotiating with a union, and the union picks one to strike. The other three companies respond with lockouts as a defensive tactic.

What Steinbrenner's company did was different. It beat the union to the punch. "It was an offensive weapon to be used to pressure a union," Prozzi said. "The lockout in the easiest (definition) is equivalent to the company what the strike is to the employees."

Barring a contract or deadline extension, the NFL will lock out players for the first time in its history, causing immediate disruption and threatening the 2011 season.

Goodbye football; hello hardball.

"Lockouts are not typical in labor negotiations, even in fairly contentious disputes," Downtown lawyer Howard Grossinger said. "It is rarely used, and it is very strong management action. It's fairly hostile, but it is not illegal.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, contracts are settled without strikes or lockouts," said Grossinger, who has worked 40 years on the labor side. "Strikes are much more common than lockouts."

Except in sports. Terry Murphy, a Downtown labor lawyer who represents management, said sports are different from the "normal commercial world."

"It's different because the employees are so highly paid," he said. "When you deny professional athletes the ability to work and get paid, it has more of an impact (on the public). ... Professional sports go by seasons. We have these times between seasons, but the leverage is the season to come."

Thus, lockouts often are used as a "preemptive move" to prevent a union from striking, said Downtown labor attorney Louis Kushner. "(A lockout) allows the owners to control the time," he said.

The NFL Players Association says it won't strike. But lockouts can happen "when the union is satisfied with the status quo," said Kushner, a lawyer for 43 years. "They like what they have. The union tactic would be to keep working and negotiating. ... But what management wants is to pressure the union into settling on its own terms."

The union has maintained it is content with the current agreement, in which the owners take $1 billion off the top of total revenue about $9 billion last season and the players and owners split the rest, 60 percent to 40 percent, respectively. The owners, however, aren't happy, voting in 2008 to opt out of the contract two years early. They are asking for an additional $1 billion off the top, the major point of contention among several issues that include a rookie pay scale and proposed 18-game schedule.

With a lockout, teams shut their doors to keep players from their facilities, coaches and team-related activities. Season-ticket sales and sponsorships could be placed on hold, possibly costing revenue. Players are paid during the season they would not feel a financial pinch of a lockout until September but some administrative staffers and assistant coaches could face furloughs or other financial fallout if the lockout drags on.

The NFL draft would take place in April, but there would be no trades or free-agent signings during the offseason. Minicamps, organized team activities, medical treatment, training camp and ultimately the 2011 regular season would be jeopardized.

The league has had three work stoppages, all resulting from strikes, but none since 1987. The longest, in 1982, lasted 57 days and slashed the regular season from 16 games to nine. In 1987, the NFL lost one game, then used replacement players for three weeks before the sides settled.

Although this would be the first NFL lockout, other professional sports have had their share. The most damaging was the 310-day NHL lockout in 2004-05, the first time a North American professional sports league lost an entire season to a labor dispute. According to at least two polls, fans sided with the owners during that dispute. That's typical; fans usually aim their anger toward the players. But it was clear the NHL was hurting financially. The NFL, on the other hand, is the nation's most popular and richest sport.

"I think a lockout would have a different public perception than a strike," Prozzi said.

"I don't think you can make an analogy at all to the NHL," said Thomas May, a Downtown labor lawyer for management. "The perception is that the NFL is at the height of its popularity generating huge revenues."

In this case, perception is reality.



Read more: NFL lockout would trace to late Yankees owner - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt...#ixzz1F8OAM69K
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Old 02-27-2011, 04:03 PM   #2
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Default Re: NFL lockout would trace to late Yankees owner

"While no one is blaming the late New York Yankees' owner for the contract deadlock between the National Football League and the players' union, there's a connection between his former Cleveland shipping company and the lockout the NFL is threatening to impose on the union this week.

American Shipbuilding Co., which provided most of the funds Steinbrenner used to buy the Yankees, won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that for the first time gave employers the legal right to lock out workers as an offensive tactic to put pressure on unions."

I think this explains the bad sport karma in Cleveland... :P
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