By Dr. Jonathan Tiemann
In honor of Labor Day Weekend, here’s a note concerning a matter that could have surprising implications for organized labor:
Fans of the New England Patriots are no doubt celebrating yesterday’s ruling from US District Court in the Southern District of New York, which overturned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s imposition of a four-game suspension on Patriots uber-star quarterback Tom Brady. But there’s another group that potentially gained even more from the ruling than Patriots fans did: Leaders of organized labor should see in the ruling a strengthening of both the role of collective bargaining agreements and protections for workers facing arbitrary and capricious workplace disciplinary action.
Mr. Goodell’s action, you’ll recall, stems from the Patriots’ apparent use of under-inflated footballs (in the NFL each team provides the balls for use when its offensive platoon is on the field) during last year’s AFC Championship Game. After investigating the incident, the League imposed sanctions on the Patriots, including a fine of $1 million and the loss of two future draft picks. At the same time, the League informed Mr. Brady that it would suspend him, without pay, for the first four games of the 2015 season. Mr. Brady asked for, and was granted, an arbitration hearing. Mr. Goodell appointed himself arbitrator at that hearing, and found in his own favor, reaffirming Mr. Brady’s suspension. Yesterday’s opinion resolved a pair of cross-motions: the NFL’s motion to confirm, and Mr. Brady’s (actually, and crucially, the NFL Players Association’s) to vacate, the suspension. Judge Hon. Richard M. Berman yesterday ruled in Mr. Brady’s favor.
Regardless of the high profile of the NFL, the Brady suspension is essentially a matter of disciplinary action in response to alleged workplace misconduct in the private sector. The courts, therefore, can only intervene to the extent that the disciplinary action runs afoul of either an existing collective bargaining agreement or established principles and statutes in employment law. The ruling in Mr. Brady’s favor therefore tends to strengthen protections for all workers, particularly those working under collective bargaining agreements.