A court ruling that National Football League owners owe the players' pension fund $19.3 million in overdue payments deprives the owners of a bargaining ploy, a union attorney said.
U.S. District Judge Herbert Murray ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the NFL Players Assn. that the owners must pay the back amounts in a dispute dating to 1984.
Dick Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, said the ruling was a significant legal victory for the players in more ways than one.
"Ever since the contributions were due but not paid, management has been trying to use the unpaid sums as leverage in bargaining. The owners tried to make us bargain twice for the same pension benefits, but this pension money belongs to the players and always has," Berthelsen said.
The NFLPA, which administers the pension fund with the league's Management Council, had sought to force the owners to make payments annually under the five-year collective bargaining agreement that expired last year.
John Jones, spokesman for management, said the council plans to appeal at an undetermined date.
Murray ruled that the owners must pay almost $18 million in contributions for 1984-86 plus about $1.3 million in interest.