A Confluence of Labor and Antitrust Law: The Possibility of Union Decertification in the National Basketball Association to Avoid the Bounds of Labor Law and Move Into the Realm of Antitrust

Thursday, January 1st, 1998 at 12:00 am by Marc J. Yoskowitz
Marc J. Yoskowitz, A Confluence of Labor and Antitrust Law: The Possibility of Union Decertification in the National Basketball Association to Avoid the Bounds of Labor Law and Move Into the Realm of Antitrust, 1998 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 579

Player arrested! Team to relocate, city sues! Star player and team to enter into arbitration hearings! These and many similar exclamations are increasingly found in both the sports and business sections of newspapers throughout the country, and the headlines of these sections are often easily confused. While the area of sports law engenders much controversy in various legal fields, a disproportionate amount of litigation involving a league as a whole falls within the purview of antitrust law. The current structure of major sports in the United States, with one preeminent league controlling the entire sport, leads to allegations of monopoly, group boycotts and price fixing. Yet, antitrust law is not the only doctrine which governs relations between management and players in sports. When a league and its players engage in collective bargaining, sports leagues are also subject to the restrictions of the labor laws. It is when these conflicting legal precepts converge that courts are left to determine which ideology takes precedence. The possible decertification of the National Basketball Players Association (“NBPA”) raises these issues in an interesting manner. If the players union decertifies when the Collective Bargaining Agreement is reopened, the NBPA will claim that a collective bargaining relationship no longer exists and hence labor law is no longer relevant. The players will then attempt to eliminate various contentious provisions of the current collective bargaining agreement by alleging that the league has violated the tenets of antitrust law. The matter will almost certainly land in federal court, and the court will be left to determine whether labor or antitrust law applies. If antitrust law is preeminent, the court must then determine whether the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) violated its precepts. Taking this example of possible NBPA union decertification, this note will examine the confluence of labor and antitrust law in a collective bargaining relationship and the application and parameters of the nonstatutory labor exemption. Such an exploration is an original and timely contribution to the fields of sports law, antitrust law, labor law, and business law in general, and has yet to be undertaken. As the agreement is now reopened, and a spate of litigation almost certain to follow, this analysis is very apt at this time. The work to follow undertakes a broader and more comprehensive legal analysis, analyzing the history and background of the confluence of labor and antitrust law in sports, the history of collective bargaining in the NBA, the standing of labor law cases concerning sports and the standards established therefrom, and finally analyzing the probable results of NBPA decertification under both labor and antitrust law.

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