WASHINGTON – The NFL filed an unfair labor practice charge against its players' union with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday.
The league's filing says the union "consistently has failed to confer in good faith" during negotiations for a new contract and the union's "conduct amounts to surface bargaining and an anticipatory refusal to bargain."
A statement e-mailed to The Associated Press by union spokesman George Atallah says the NFL's "claim has absolutely no merit."
The NLRB is a federal agency that enforces the nation's labor laws and referees labor-management disputes.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the day March 3. The NFL Players Association has said it expects the owners to lock out players; the NFL's filing with the NLRB says that the union wants to "run out the clock" and, essentially, avoid reaching a new CBA so it can decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit.
Players already have voted, team-by-team, to authorize decertifying their union if a new CBA isn't reached by the deadline.
The NFLPA already decertified in 1989, then returned as a union in 1993, when a contract was reached with the league that provided for free agency. That landmark CBA was renewed or restructured several times since 1993, including in 2006. The owners opted out of that most recent deal in 2008.
Under the heading "Basis of the Charge," the NFL says in Monday's filing with the NLRB that during current negotiations, the union delayed the scheduling of bargaining sessions; failed to "respond in a timely and/or meaningful manner" to owners' contract proposals; and insisted on "disclosure of financial data to which the NFLPA has no legal right and then suspending negotiations unless and until such data is produced."
The league's filing also accuses the NFLPA of "engaging in other actions demonstrating that the union has approached these negotiations with no intent to reach agreement through good faith collective bargaining."
Atallah's e-mailed statement said: "The players didn't walk out and the players can't lock out. Players want a fair, new and long-term deal. We have offered proposals and solutions on every issue the owners have raised."
The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues; under the old deal, the owners receive $1 billion off the top, and they want to increase that to $2 billion before players get their share.
Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; a rookie wage scale; and benefits for retired players.
The NFL and union went more than two months without holding any formal bargaining sessions, until a meeting Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once last week but called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.
The NFL has not missed games due to labor strife since 1987, when the players went on strike and the owners continued the season with replacement players.
Making reference to the 1989 decertification, the NFL's filing says: "As in the past, the NFLPA's threatened disclaimer as the representative of the players, together with the now-familiar antitrust litigation that is expected to follow, is a ploy and an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process, there being no evidence whatsoever of any (let alone widespread) disaffection with the union by its members."