Russell Okung, a current NFL player and member of the National Football League Players Association’s (NFLPA) executive committee, has filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging the union has threatened retaliation against its own members and violated its own constitution by forcing a full-member ratification vote of a new 10-year labor agreement between the league and its players despite the objections and lack of support from the union’s executive committee.

Okung’s three-page filing alleges the union violated Section 8(b)(1)(a) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA),

which makes it illegal for a union to restrain or coerce union members in the exercise of their federally protected rights. These protected rights include the right of union members to openly discuss and criticize union contract negotiation strategies. Here, Okung alleges the NFLPA illegally threatened him and other union members with retaliation for their failure to join and support the union and had tried to suppress his legal right to speak up.

Okung identifies NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith as making ongoing threats, and the union’s outside counsel, David Greenspan, as having made a threat on October 31, 2019.

Okung also alleges the NFLPA violated the terms of Section 6 its own constitution by failing to follow the direction of the NFLPA’s executive committee. His allegations are supported by the fact that the 11 members of the executive committee voted 6-5 against recommending the current collective bargaining agreement proposal and that Smit ignored the executive committee and proceeded to forward the contract for member ratification.

Okung also alleges a violation of 8(b)(3) of the NLRA, which makes it illegal for a union to refuse to bargain in good faith over wages, hours, and other terms of employment.

Now, Okung’s ULP charge will go through the NLRB process to determine whether the NLRA has been violated.

The Regional Director will assign specific investigators and oversee the investigation of the charge. The investigators will conduct interviews, attempt to secure affidavits from Okung and likely other executive committee members and review any other pertinent records and evidence to determine whether a formal action should be taken against the NFLPA or whether the charge lacks merit and should be dismissed. If the Regional Director concludes that the charge has merit, a complaint will be issued and a formal hearing will be scheduled before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

While it is doubtful the NLRB will stop the completion of the voting process by NFL players (scheduled to conclude on November 14, 2020), Okung’s strong allegations could affect the voting process, even convincing current players to join veteran NFL players who opposed the current, proposed agreement and vote against its ratification.

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group will continue to monitor the efforts of the NFL and NFLPA to secure a new, ratified collective bargaining agreement and Okung’s efforts to interrupt that effort. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.


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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.