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Pro athletes ought to bargain outside federal court, legal scholar says
Date:5/17/2011

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. New research by a University of Illinois law and labor expert shows that in labor disputes between professional athletes and owners, courts have consistently failed to maintain a clear separation between antitrust and labor law.

While players in the three major sports football, baseball and basketball have pursued a two-pronged approach of collective bargaining and antitrust litigation to eliminate owner-imposed constraints on labor market competition, Michael LeRoy says that the institution of collective bargaining should not be subordinated to antitrust law.

"The place for professional athletes to bargain the terms and conditions of employment is at the collective bargaining table, not the federal courthouse," said LeRoy, a professor of law and of labor and employment relations at Illinois.

"Collective bargaining is intended to allow parties to adjust their relationship through negotiation, even though it's rare that both parties have equal bargaining power. But as long as federal judges enable players to bargain in the courthouse, and not at the traditional bargaining table, collective bargaining in professional sports will be a stunted institution."

According to LeRoy, labor law is designed to be process-oriented, not result-oriented.

"If the union wins, which has been baseball's experience, then that's the way it goes," he said. "If the owners win, as has been the case with the NFL, then the players just have to accept it."

But that hasn't been the case, as the courts have sided with the players in 57 percent of antitrust suits. In the current NFL labor quarrel, the advantage for the players in fleeing from the bargaining table to the shelter of federal courts is that they can continue to work, with salaries and bonuses, while they litigate, LeRoy says.

"And a lot of that is not so much a function of the law but a function of what a particular court says the law is," LeRo
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Contact: Phil Ciciora
pciciora@illinois.edu
217-333-2177
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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