Is NLRB The Answer? Don't Hold Your Breath
Based on information from various labor lawyers, it's apparently going to be virtually meaningless to the process, regardless of what they rule. Here's what we found:
1. The NLRB's role is to make sure that the two sides want a deal and have an offer they'll take if the other side is willing. But each side is free to stake out tough demands, and bargain for those demands as hard and as long as they feel necessary, without any interference. They don't have to budge an inch, if they feel that's what they need to do. While the filing of complaints is a common PR tactic, it's very difficult to truly run afoul of the NLRB rules regarding a "failure to bargain in good faith.'' To violate that regulation, the party must exhibit behavior that they don't want a deal made. (Could they really decide that the NBA doesn't want and wouldn't actually accept the deal they themselves have been chasing? It seems extremely unlikely.)
2. If the NLRB takes action at this point, it would issue a complaint that has the same import as a city detective referring criminal suspicion to the local DA for further investigation on the basis of "probable cause." It means there is a reason to believe a violation may have occurred, but it is not a finding of guilt. It leads to a hearing before an administrative law judge, where there would be something similar to a trial, with facts introduced, evidence examined and challenged, and a conclusion reached as to whether a violation has occurred or not.
If no, that's the end of it. If yes, the league would have the right to appeal by having the merits of the case tried in an actual court, while the union would have the right to ask the NLRB to seek an injunction to end the lockout pending the count case. But the NLRB cannot issue an injunction itself. So it would have to go to federal court to ask for one by a judge. There are very high standards to meet to gain such an injunction, because labor law generally bars injunctions from interfering in labor negotiations.
Every step of that process is iffy, as well as time-consuming. and it doesn't even mean there's going to be a case filed at some point. The investigation based on suspicion would have to turn up actual evidence, after which it would then have to be determined if the evidence is strong enough to take to court. If so, the case is filed, then it's tried, and eventually a verdict would be rendered. Every step of that process is iffy, as well as time-consuming.
3. Most importantly, there is no chance that the NLRB could end the lockout now. From what we have been told, the "best-case" scenario for an injunction stopping the lockout is a point after the season will have already been lost, and probably long afterward. And time is not on the players' side. Ultimately, while the NLRB has been much-ballyhooed as a potential and perhaps imminent game-changer within these negotiations, IT appears that's simply not the case. It's virtually certain they'll have no impact at all. Going forward, if either side tells us differently, we need to recognize that the parties in the negotiation know better, and we're being hit with a PR tactic and nothing more.