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Okung files NLRB complaint against NFL Players Association

Russell Okung

National Football League offensive tackle Russell Okung, an outspoken member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming it has negotiated a proposed labor deal with the league in bad faith.

Okung, who is reportedly set to be traded from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Carolina Panthers, is accusing union executive director DeMaurice Smith of pushing a vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement with the NFL to the full union membership, despite the objections and a vote against the deal by the NFLPA executive committee.

Okung has long been a vocal critical of several elements of the proposed labor deal, particularly the notion of adding a 17th game to each team’s regular season schedule. That proposed extra game has raised numerous concerns about player health and safety.

“Health and safety is a priority to us,” Okung said prior to Super Bowl LIV. “We need to be cognizant of that well into the future, not just to protect our players, but the future of our game.”

Last month, the NFLPA executive committee voted 6-5 to not recommend the deal to the full membership. The union’s group of 32 team representatives voted 17-14 to approve the deal, with one abstention. But that total was short of the two-thirds majority needs to move the measure to the full group of players.

Absent that requisite leadership-level support, the deal was still moved along to the players, and an ongoing vote is slated to finish at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on March 14. 

The NLRB is an independent federal agency charged with guarding employee rights. A three-page complaint from Okung lists four separate measures of alleged improper conduct. In addition to moving along the CBA vote to the full membership in violation of the union constitution, Okung also claims in the filing that NFLPA leadership has “threatened and chilled Mr. Okung and his rights to speak, and the rights of his fellow similarly-situated players, and retaliating against him for his support of fellow union members.” 

Okung went on to claim that he has been “threatened with criminal prosecution and union sanction by NFLPA leadership and was subjected to an unprecedented investigation, specifically for behaviors that could not be construed under any circumstances as harmful.”

In addition to happening while players are voting on a new labor deal, Okung’s NLRB filing arrives a day before union player representatives are set to elect a new president. Okung is also vying to succeed current office holder Eric Winston, who is stepping down from his union post as he also concludes his playing career. It is not known whether Okung’s action with the NLRB will impact his candidacy.

Okung has not commented further on the filing. But over the weekend, he tweeted a set of NLRB policy language that details the agency’s definition of bad-faith bargaining. The union has also not commented on Okung’s filing.