Former Seahawks tackle Russell Okung, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, filed on Monday an unfair labor practices charge against the NFLPA with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union of acting improperly during negotiations with the league on the sport’s proposed collective bargaining agreement.
Okung, reportedly in the process of being traded from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Carolina Panthers, is a candidate for president of the NFLPA. That election is scheduled to take place Tuesday during the union’s annual meeting in Florida. The Seahawks drafted Okung No. 6 overall in the 2010 draft, and he was with the team until he hit free agency in 2016 and signed with the Denver Broncos.
Okung’s charge with the NLRB comes with the proposed contract up for a ratification vote by all NFL players. Voting expires at 11:59 p.m. Saturday after the NFLPA extended that deadline on Monday by two days.
The proposed CBA previously was ratified by the owners of the 32 NFL teams and would take effect immediately if it were approved by a majority of players. The deal includes an expanded set of playoffs, a 17-game regular season with a reduced preseason, and significant changes to the sport’s marijuana policy and system of player discipline.
The NLRB will investigate Okung’s charge, a process expected to take about three months, and decide whether to issue a complaint against the NFLPA. If a complaint is issued, the case could end up before an administrative law judge. Okung could seek to overturn a ratification vote by the players if they approve the CBA. But any prospective remedies could be far more modest, such as the NFLPA being ordered to cease any practices deemed improper, according to people familiar with the case.
The NFLPA declined to comment, and Okung did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Okung’s charge names DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, and another NFLPA attorney. It says the NFLPA “has restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of rights … by threatening to retaliate against employees if they did not join or support the union.” The charge also says the NFLPA “has failed and refused to bargain in good faith with the employer.”
Okung’s charge includes additional information attached on an extra page of the filing, an unusual step in an NLRB charge. That additional page says the proposed CBA should not have been submitted by the NFLPA to a vote of team-by-team player representatives and then to all players after being rejected by the executive committee, on which Okung serves.
The executive committee voted, 6-5, against recommending ratification of the deal. But the NFLPA sent the CBA to the pending vote of all dues-paying players after the union’s 32 team representatives voted, 17-14 with one abstention, to take that step.
The additional information included in Okung’s charge says he also was improperly investigated and threatened with punishment by the union and criminal prosecution. That allegation relates to an NFLPA investigation of Okung for recording a portion of a meeting and for comments he made to reporters, according to a person familiar with the case.
Okung is attempting to succeed Eric Winston as union president. Winston worked closely with Smith in negotiating the proposed CBA and, as a retired player, is ineligible for another term as president. Other candidates to succeed Winston include New York Giants safety Michael Thomas, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Sam Acho and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter.