MIAMI (Reuters) - The NFL’s lockout is harming players and fans and is not in the public interest, District Judge Susan Nelson said in a ruling on Monday that granted the players’ request for an injunction to halt the work stoppage.
Nelson’s order to end the six-week lockout, imposed last month after a breakdown in talks over a new collective deal, is to be appealed by the NFL.
In an 89-page statement, the judge also accepted that the players dissolution of their union was valid and allowed them to act as individuals rather than be constricted by labor bargaining rules.
The Minnesota judge said in the absence of a collective bargaining process, which ended on March 11, antitrust policies come to the fore.
The plaintiffs in the case, led quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, argued they were suffering harm as a result of a lockout that stops them from reporting to work.
Noting that NFL players have short careers and can have their playing time cut short by injuries, Nelson supported the view that the lockout was damaging the players.
“The Brady plaintiffs have shown not only that they likely would suffer irreparable harm absent the preliminary injunction, but that they are in fact suffering such harm now,” she stated.
The judge also said she had to consider whether an injunction would cause more harm to the NFL as a business than the current lockout was inflicting on the players.
“The irreparable harm to the players outweighs any harm an injunction would cause the NFL,” stated Nelson. “The NFL’s argument that an order of this court enjoining the lockout will cause the league harm because such an order will necessarily expose them to antitrust liability is unpersuasive.”
But the judge said the dispute involved much more than a row over salaries and the league’s set-up.
“The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions sales,” Nelson wrote in her ruling.
“And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football, who have a strong investment in the 2011 season, is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout.
“In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation.”
With no union and employer talks in place, Nelson said it came down to a matter of enforcing laws on competition.
“The public interest favors the enforcement of the antitrust laws and their underlying pro-competition policy, and the countervailing labor-law policy favoring collective bargaining is no longer implicated here.”
Editing by Frank Pingue