Brown v. Pro Football, Inc.

After their collective-bargaining agreement expired, the National Football League (NFL), a group of football clubs, and the NFL Players Association, a labor union, began to negotiate a new contract. The NFL presented a plan that would permit each club to establish a “developmental squad” of substitute players, each of whom would be paid the same $1,000 weekly salary. The union disagreed, insisting that individual squad members should be free to negotiate their own salaries. When negotiations reached an impasse, the NFL unilaterally implemented the plan. A number of squad players brought this antitrust suit, claiming that the employers’ agreement to pay them $1,000 per week restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act. The District Court entered judgment for the players on a jury treble-damages award, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the owners were immune from antitrust liability under the federal labor laws.

Held: Federal labor laws shield from antitrust attack an agreement among several employers bargaining together to implement after impasse the terms of their last best good-faith wage offer. pp.235-250.

(a) This Court has previously found in the labor laws an implicit, “nonstatutory” antitrust exemption that applies where needed to make the collective-bargaining process work. See, e. g., Connell Constr. Co. v. Plumbers, 421 U. S. 616, 622. The practice here at issue-the postimpasse imposition of a proposed employment term concerning a mandatory subject of bargaining-is unobjectionable as a matter of labor law and policy, and, indeed, plays a significant role in the multiemployer collective-bargaining process that itself comprises an important part of the Nation’s industrial relations system. Subjecting it to antitrust law would threaten to introduce instability and uncertainty into the collective-bargaining process, for antitrust often forbids or discourages the kinds of joint discussions and behavior that collective bargaining invites or requires.