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Running Backs NLRB Petition Seeks To “Stiff Arm” NFL Players Association With New Bargaining Unit

An upstart labor organization, the International Brotherhood of Professional Running Backs (IBPRB), has filed a petition with Region 13, the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), seeking to form a separate union for the National Football League’s running backs. The unit clarification petition, NLRB Case No. 13-UC-246227, seeks to sever and create a separate running back bargaining unit from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), which has historically represented all NFL players regardless of position.

A unit clarification or “UC” petition generally is used to resolve disputes regarding the unit placement of disputed positions, typically newly created positions, in a process referred to as an accretion. However, a UC petition also can be used as a method to affect the subdivision of an existing bargaining unit, as the IBPRB seeks to do here. A severance effort is most often undertaken when some changed circumstances have occurred that have negated any “community of interest” (similarity of terms and conditions of employment) that may have previously existed among the bargaining unit and raise uncertainty regarding the continued appropriateness of the existing bargaining unit.

The petition filed by the IBPRB cited “the unique career structures” of running backs as its basis for the loss of the necessary community of interest between the running backs and the other NFL player members of the NFLPA.

For a successful UC petition, the petitioner must show “recent, substantial changes in their operations, or that other compelling circumstances exist which would warrant disregarding the long-existing bargaining history” of the parties. In Batesville Casket Company, Inc., 283 NLRB 795 (1987), the NLRB relied upon the standard established in Rock-Tenn Co., 274 NLRB 772 (1985), and dismissed a UC petition because the employer-petitioners did not show any “recent, substantial changes in their operations, or that other compelling circumstances which would warrant disregarding the long-existing bargaining history” of the parties.

It may be difficult for the IBPRB to meet the “recent, substantial changes” test.

While the role of a running back has evolved over recent years as the passing game has become the dominant force in offensive schemes, the basic mission of the position– to carry the ball, catch passes, and block – is unchanged. Whatever may be the unique career structures to which the IBPRB referred in the petition (the average career of an NFL running back is 2.5 years compared to 3.3 years for all positions), it may be difficult for the union to show that there have been “recent, substantial changes” in the running back position to satisfy the Batesville Casket threshold for unit clarification.

In representation cases such as this, the regional office of the NLRB conducts an initial investigation and holds a hearing if appropriate. A notice of hearing has not yet been issued. The NLRB may still be in a huddle.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume IX, Number 240

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Patrick Egan, Labor Law Attorney, Jackson Lewis, Boston Law Firm
Patrick L. Egan

Patrick L. Egan is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Egan works in traditional labor law.

He has assisted employers in all industries in all phases of union organizing campaigns. Mr. Egan has represented employers in card-signing efforts and representation and decertification campaigns. He has conducted union awareness and positive employee relations training for hundreds of companies and employer groups. He has also assisted dozens of employers to preempt, prepare for and defend against union corporate campaigning....

617-367-0025
Gregg E. Clifton, Collegiate Sports Attorney, Jackson Lewis, disciplinary hearings Lawyer
Office Managing Principal

Gregg E. Clifton is Office Managing Principal of the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as one of the editors of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. 

(602) 714-7044
Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law
Principal

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification...

617-367-0025