NBA takes legal action against locked-out players

August 2, 2011 - 1:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — With locked-out NBA players threatening to file an antitrust lawsuit, the league beat them to court.

The league filed two legal claims on Tuesday against the NBA Players Association, an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board and a lawsuit in federal district court in New York.

The NBA accused the players of being uncooperative in negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement by making "more than two dozen" threats to dissolve their union and sue the league under antitrust laws in order to secure more favorable terms in a new CBA.

NFL players decertified their union earlier this year, though they ultimately resolved a 4½- month labor dispute with owners of the pro football league.

Players' attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who also represented the NFL players, was named in the NBA's lawsuit for his use of what the league called an "impermissible pressure tactic" that has had a "direct, immediate and harmful" effect on CBA talks.

"For the parties to reach agreement on a new CBA, the union must commit to the collective bargaining process fully and in good faith," NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Adam Silver said in a statement released by the league.

The NBAPA had no immediate comment.

After a labor meeting in New York on Monday, the first session since the lockout began July 1 that included Commissioner David Stern as well as leaders from both the owners and the players, a downcast Stern said the sides were "at the same place" as they were a month ago in the hours before the old deal ran out.

Owners are seeking significant changes to the league's salary structure, claiming $300 million in losses last season and hundreds of millions more in each year of the previous CBA, which was ratified in 2005. Players have acknowledged the losses but disputed the size, and they've balked at the league's push for a hard salary cap and reduction in salaries and maximum contract lengths.

The NBA's lawsuit is essentially preventative legal medicine.

It seeks a declaration from the court that the lockout does not violate antitrust laws, in case the union breaks up to file an antitrust lawsuit. It also cites legal backing for the lockout itself, invoking Depression-era legislation known as the Norris-LaGuardia Act designed to prevent court intervention in a labor dispute.

Finally, the league's lawsuit also makes an attempt to secure support for virtually apocalyptic salary reform should the union dissolve. The NBA asked the court to declare that such a decertification" would in turn void all existing player contracts, because they're guided by the union's involvement in the old CBA. Without a union and a collective bargaining relationship, the league argued, the terms and conditions of those previously negotiated contracts would not apply.