Even Pro Football may have to follow state laws.

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(July 10, 2009) Two Minnesota Vikings football players who tested positive for a banned substance were granted a temporary restraining order on Thursday, July 9, 2009, effectively blocking their suspensions imposed under NFL rules. The players claim their suspensions would violate the state drug testing law which prohibits discipline upon the first positive unless certain conditions, not applicable here, exist. (Sec. 181.953, Subd 10 (b))

The NFL and the Vikings argue that state law does not apply because these players are members of the NFL Players Association (Union) subject to the rules under the current collective bargaining agreement. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that the court’s decision Thursday “effectively exempts two players from the NFL-NFLPA collectively bargained program, [and] further illustrates the critical importance of a uniform policy for all teams in the league and why this matter should be governed exclusively by federal law.”

But, is the employer in this case – the Vikings – any different than any other Minnesota employer whose employees are represented by a collective bargaining agent? Why should professional football employers be treated any differently than an employer with Teamsters or professional carpenters or plumbers?

In fact the Minnesota drug test law anticipates this situation by providing as follows:

“181.955 CONSTRUCTION.

Subd. 1. Freedom to collectively bargain.

Sections 181.950 to 181.954 shall not be construed to limit the parties to a collective bargaining agreement from bargaining and agreeing with respect to a drug and alcohol testing policy that meets or exceeds, and does not otherwise conflict with, the minimum standards and requirements for employee protection provided in those sections.

Subd. 2. Employee protections under existing collective bargaining agreements.

Sections 181.950 to 181.954 shall not be construed to interfere with or diminish any employee protections relating to drug and alcohol testing already provided under collective bargaining agreements in effect on the effective date of those sections that exceed the minimum standards and requirements for employee protection provided in those sections.”

The Minnesota law is also the only drug testing law in the country that specifically includes professional football players as follows:

“181.951 AUTHORIZED DRUG AND ALCOHOL TESTING.

Subd. 4.Random testing.
An employer may request or require employees to undergo drug and alcohol testing on a random selection basis only if (1) they are employed in safety-sensitive positions, or (2) they are employed as professional athletes if the professional athlete is subject to a collective bargaining agreement permitting random testing but only to the extent consistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

Clearly the Minnesota Legislature intended to include professional athletes in its legislation and it intended to bind collective bargaining agreements to its limitations. Whether the Minnesota Legislature had the legal authority to do this may be resolved in this case.

Today there are five (5) states (CT, ME, MN, OK, & RI) that require the collective bargaining agreements to meet or exceed state law requirements. Two (2) states (IA & MD) laws provide that the collective bargaining agreements shall govern or override the state’s law.

To be continued. . .