This weekend, the National Basketball Association (NBA) lockout effectively came to an end after nearly four months of disputes. While some issues have yet to be worked out, the players and the NBA have come to a tentative agreement on the major concerns. This was a highly-publicized business dispute with many issues at stake. However, it is not unlike business litigation faced by companies in California and across the country.
According to counsel for the NBA players, the players "wanted a fair deal with a system that would provide a true competitive market for their services." In an effort to reach that goal, NBA players submitted antitrust lawsuits in both California and Minnesota.
The lawsuits came after the players' union withdrew an unfair labor practices charge that had said the NBA did not negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement in good faith. This charge may have allowed players to decertify the National Basketball Player's Association (vote to end the union) in an effort to push the NBA to negotiate.
By decertifying, the players could have dissolved the bargaining relationship and forced the NBA to face antitrust laws. (While the National Basketball Player's Association existed, collective bargaining agreements remained shielded from antitrust laws that prohibit restraints on competition. Under the antitrust laws, the NBA's salary caps, maximum salaries and even the lockout itself, could be considered price fixing and, thus, illegal.) However, the NBA filed a disclaimer of interest, dissolving the union into a trade association and allowing individual players to bring antitrust claims against the NBA.
The antitrust lawsuits claimed that the NBA violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by not allowing collective bargaining proceedings to take place. The NBA allegedly did this by giving the union a take it or leave it deal, effectively forcing the union to accept the offer or suffer financial loss.
Through the antitrust lawsuits, the players sought treble damages, which means the NBA may have been forced to pay three times what the players lost in salary during the lockout.
The NBA claims the players used the decertification threat and antitrust lawsuits to force negotiations. There are many tactics both parties can use during any business dispute, some of which can threaten a business' financial wellbeing and reputation. That is why it is important for businesses to hire business litigation attorneys that are strong advocates with experience in the complexities of business disputes.
Source: USA Today, "NBA Deal Not Perfect, But Sides Can Go With It," Jeff Zillgitt, Nov. 27, 2011.