National Football League team owners repeatedly broke federal labor law during the 1987 players strike and must pay $22 million to the 1,100 athletes who joined the walkout, an administrative judge has ruled.
The clubs owe the money because they shorted the players a week's salary after the strike ended, declared Benjamin Schlesinger, an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board."We're delighted of course," Dick Berthelson, lawyer for the National Football League Players Association, said Friday.
"We've received the ruling and our attorneys will review it," said Greg Aiello, league spokesman. An NFL source said the league expects to appeal.
Management "illegally discriminated against the strikers" in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, the law judge's 108-page decision said. The NFL clubs can appeal to the five-member NLRB or try to work out a settlement with the players.
The NFL Players Association was the collective bargaining agent during the 1987 strike, but the players decertified the union in 1989.
Thursday's decision was based on a complaint filed by NLRB lawyers. Copies of the decision, which won't be issued by the agency until next week, were mailed to players' homes.
The players struck the NFL on Sept. 21, 1987, mainly over the issue of free agency. The clubs began games on Oct. 4 with replacement players.
The players ended their strike 31/2 weeks after it began, on Oct. 15, a Thursday.
But the clubs said the players had missed a Wednesday deadline for returning to work and barred them from the following Sunday's games, which meant they wouldn't get paid that week. The teams then added 15 non-strikers to their rosters for that weekend's games.
The owners' Council Executive Committee had set the Wednesday deadline for striking players, while allowing the clubs until late Saturday afternoon to sign non-strikers.
"The deadline rule excluding only the striking players from returning ... discriminates against them only because they struck," said Schlesinger. "It treats them differently from the entire universe of nonstriking players."