Decertifying Players Unions: Lessons from the NFL and NBA Lockouts of 2011

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Nathaniel Grow · 15 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 473

Abstract

This Article analyzes the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) lockouts of 2011, focusing in particular on the role union dissolution played in each work stoppage. Although the existing academic literature had generally concluded that players unions in the four major US professional sports leagues were unlikely to disband during a labor dispute, the unions in both the NFL and NBA elected to dissolve in response to lockouts by ownership. This Article provides an explanation for why the prior literature misjudged the role that union dissolution would play during the 2011 work stoppages. It argues that previous commentators failed to recognize that the frequently cited disadvantages of dissolving a union actually provide minimal disincentive to players during a lockout. The Article concludes by predicting that players will likely continue to dissolve their unions during future lockouts in order to gain negotiating leverage over ownership through the assertion of antitrust claims.