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Brown v. Pro Football, Inc. (95-388), 518 U.S. 231 (1996)
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[ Breyer ]
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Dissent
[ Stevens ]
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NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


No. 95-388


ANTONY BROWN, et al., PETITIONERS v. PRO FOOTBALL, INC., dba WASHINGTON REDSKINS, et al.

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit

[June 20, 1996]

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

We can state the relevant facts briefly. In 1987, a collective bargaining agreement between the National Football League (NFL), a group of football clubs, and the NFL Players Association, a labor union, expired. The

NFL and the Players Association began to negotiate a new contract. In March 1989, during the negotiations, the NFL adopted Resolution G 2, a plan that would permit each club to establish a "developmental squad" of up to six rookie or "first year" players who, as free agents, had failed to secure a position on a regular player roster. See App. 42. Squad members would play in practice games and sometimes in regular games as substitutes for injured players. Resolution G 2 provided that the club owners would pay all squad members the same weekly salary.

The next month, April, the NFL presented the developmental squad plan to the Players Association. The NFL proposed a squad player salary of $1,000 per week. The Players Association disagreed. It insisted that the club owners give developmental squad players benefits and protections similar to those provided regular players, and that they leave individual squad members free to negotiate their own salaries.

Two months later, in June, negotiations on the issue of developmental squad salaries reached an impasse. The NFL then unilaterally implemented the developmental squad program by distributing to the clubs a uniform contract that embodied the terms of Resolution G 2 and the $1,000 proposed weekly salary. The League advised club owners that paying developmental squad players more or less than $1,000 per week would result in disciplinary action, including the loss of draft choices.

In May 1990, 235 developmental squad players brought this antitrust suit against the League and its member clubs. The players claimed that their employers' agreement to pay them a $1,000 weekly salary violated the Sherman Act. See 15 U.S.C. § 1 (forbidding agreements in restraint of trade). The Federal District Court denied the employers' claim of exemption from the antitrust laws; it permitted the case to reach the jury; and it subsequently entered judgment on a jury treble damage award that exceeded $30 million. The NFL and its member clubs appealed.

The Court of Appeals (by a split 2 to 1 vote) reversed. The majority interpreted the labor laws as "waiv[ing] antitrust liability for restraints on competition imposed through the collective bargaining process, so long as such restraints operate primarily in a labor market characterized by collective bargaining." 50 F. 3d 1041, 1056 (CADC 1995). The Court held, consequently, that the club owners were immune from antitrust liability. We granted certiorari to review that determination. Although we do not interpret the exemption as broadly as did the Appeals Court, we nonetheless find the exemption applicable, and we affirm that Court's immunity conclusion.

The immunity before us rests upon what this Court has called the "nonstatutory" labor exemption from the antitrust laws. Connell Constr. Co. v. Plumbers, 421 U.S. 616, 622 (1975); see also Meat Cutters v. Jewel Tea Co., 381 U.S. 676 (1965); Mine Workers v. Pennington, 381 U.S. 657 (1965). The Court has implied this exemption from federal labor statutes, which set forth a national labor policy favoring free and private collective bargaining, see 29 U.S.C. § 151; Teamsters v. Oliver, 358 U.S. 283, 295 (1959); which require good faith bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions, see 29 U.S.C. §§ 158(a)(5), 158(d); NLRB v. Borg Warner Corp., 356 U.S. 342, 348-349 (1958); and which delegate related rulemaking and interpretive authority to the National Labor Relations Board, see 29 U.S.C. § 153; San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 242-245 (1959).

This implicit exemption reflects both history and logic. As a matter of history, Congress intended the labor statutes (from which the Court has implied the exemption) in part to adopt the views of dissenting justices in Duplex Printing Press Co. v. Deering, 254 U.S. 443 (1921), which justices had urged the Court to interpret broadly a different explicit "statutory" labor exemption that Congress earlier (in 1914) had written directly into the antitrust laws. Id., at 483-488 (Brandeis, J., joined by Holmes and Clarke, JJ., dissenting) (interpreting §20 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 738, 29 U.S.C. § 52); see also United States v. Hutcheson, 312 U.S. 219, 230-236 (1941) (discussing congressional reaction to Duplex). In the 1930's, when it subsequently enacted the labor statutes, Congress, as in 1914, hoped to prevent judicial use of antitrust law to resolve labor disputes--a kind of dispute normally inappropriate for antitrust law resolution. See Jewel Tea, supra, at 700-709 (opinion of Goldberg, J.); Marine Cooks v. Panama S. S. Co., 362 U.S. 365, 370, n. 7 (1960); A. Cox, Law and the National Labor Policy 3-8 (1960); cf. Duplex, supra, at 485 (Brandeis, J., dissenting) (explicit "statutory" labor exemption reflected view that "Congress, not the judges, was the body which should declare what public policy in regard to the industrial struggle demands"). The implicit ("nonstatutory") exemption interprets the labor statutes in accordance with this intent, namely, as limiting an antitrust court's authority to determine, in the area of industrial conflict, what is or is not a "reasonable" practice. It thereby substitutes legislative and administrative labor related determinations for judicial antitrust related determinations as to the appropriate legal limits of industrial conflict. See Jewel Tea, supra, at 709-710.

As a matter of logic, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to require groups of employers and employees to bargain together, but at the same time to forbid them to make among themselves or with each other any of the competition restricting agreements potentially necessary to make the process work or its results mutually acceptable. Thus, the implicit exemption recognizes that, to give effect to federal labor laws and policies and to allow meaningful collective bargaining to take place, some restraints on competition imposed through the bargaining process must be shielded from antitrust sanctions. See Connell, supra, at 622 (federal labor law's "goals" could "never" be achieved if ordinary anticompetitive effects of collective bargaining were held to violate the antitrust laws); Jewel Tea, supra, at 711 (national labor law scheme would be "virtually destroyed" by the routine imposition of antitrust penalties upon parties engaged in collective bargaining); Pennington, supra, at 665 (implicit exemption necessary to harmonize Sherman Act with "national policy . . . of promoting `the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes by subjecting labor management controversies to the mediatory influence of negotiation' ") (quoting Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. v. NLRB, 379 U.S. 203, 211 (1964)).

The petitioners and their supporters concede, as they must, the legal existence of the exemption we have described. They also concede that, where its application is necessary to make the statutorily authorized collective bargaining process work as Congress intended, the exemption must apply both to employers and to employees. Accord Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft v. Federal Maritime Comm'n, 390 U.S. 261, 287, n. 5 (1968) (Harlan, J., concurring); Jewel Tea, supra, at 729-732, 735 (opinion of Goldberg, J.); Brief for AFL CIO as Amicus Curiae in Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Carpenters, O. T. 1981, No. 81-334, pp. 16-17; see also P. Areeda & H. Hovenkamp, Antitrust Law ¶229'd (1995 Supp.) (collecting recent circuit court cases); cf. H. A. Artists & Associates, Inc. v. Actors' Equity Assn., 451 U.S. 704, 717, n. 20 (1981) (explicit "statutory" exemption applies only to "bona fide labor organization[s]"). Nor does the dissent take issue with these basic principles. See post, at 3-4. Consequently, the question before us is one of determining the exemption's scope: Does it apply to an agreement among several employers bargaining together to implement after impasse the terms of their last best good faith wage offer? We assume that such conduct, as practiced in this case, is unobjectionable as a matter of labor law and policy. On that assumption, we conclude that the exemption applies.

Labor law itself regulates directly, and considerably, the kind of behavior here at issue--the postimpasse imposition of a proposed employment term concerning a mandatory subject of bargaining. Both the Board and the courts have held that, after impasse, labor law permits employers unilaterally to implement changes in preexisting conditions, but only insofar as the new terms meet carefully circumscribed conditions. For example, the new terms must be "reasonably comprehended" within the employer's preimpasse proposals (typically the last rejected proposals), lest by imposing more or less favorable terms, the employer unfairly undermined the union's status. Storer Communications, Inc., 294 N. L. R. B. 1056, 1090 (1989); Taft Broadcasting Co., 163 N. L. R. B. 475, 478 (1967), enf'd, 395 F. 2d 622 (CADC 1968); see also NLRB v. Katz, 369 U.S. 736, 745, and n. 12 (1962). The collective bargaining proceeding itself must be free of any unfair labor practice, such as an employer's failure to have bargained in good faith. See Akron Novelty Mfg. Co., 224 N. L. R. B. 998, 1002 (1976) (where employer has not bargained in good faith, it may not implement a term of employment); 1 P. Hardin, The Developing Labor Law 697 (3d ed. 1992) (same). These regulations reflect the fact that impasse and an accompanying implementation of proposals constitute an integral part of the bargaining process. See Bonanno Linen Serv., Inc., 243 N. L. R. B. 1093, 1094 (1979) (describing use of impasse as a bargaining tactic), enf'd, 630 F. 2d 25 (CA1 1980), aff'd, 454 U.S. 404 (1982); Colorado Ute Elec. Assn., 295 N. L. R. B. 607, 609 (1989), enf. denied on other grounds, 939 F. 2d 1392 (CA10 1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 955 (1992).

Although the case law we have cited focuses upon bargaining by a single employer, no one here has argued that labor law does, or should, treat multiemployer bargaining differently in this respect. Indeed, Board and court decisions suggest that the joint implementation of proposed terms after impasse is a familiar practice in the context of multiemployer bargaining. See, e.g., El Cerrito Mill & Lumber Co., 316 N. L. R. B. 1005 (1995); Paramount Liquor Co., 307 N. L. R. B. 676, 686 (1992); NKS Distributors, Inc., 304 N. L. R. B. 338, 340-341 (1991), rev'd, 50 F. 3d 18 (CA9 1995); Sage Development Co., 301 N. L. R. B. 1173, 1175 (1991); Walker Constr. Co., 297 N. L. R. B. 746, 748 (1990), enf'd, 928 F. 2d 695 (CA5 1991); Food Employers Council, Inc., 293 N. L. R. B. 333, 334, 345-346 (1989); Tile, Terazzo & Marble Contractors Assn., 287 N. L. R. B. 769, 772 (1987), enf'd, 935 F. 2d 1249 (CA11 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1031 (1992); Salinas Valley Ford Sales, Inc., 279 N. L. R. B. 679, 686, 690 (1986); Carlsen Porsche Audi, Inc., 266 N. L. R. B. 141, 152-153 (1983); Typographic Service Co., 238 N. L. R. B. 1565 (1978); United Fire Proof Warehouse Co. v. NLRB, 356 F. 2d 494, 498-499 (CA7 1966); Cuyamaca Meats, Inc. v. Butchers' and Food Employers' Pension Trust Fund, 638 F. Supp. 885, 887 (SD Cal. 1986), aff'd, 827 F. 2d 491 (CA9 1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 1008 (1988). We proceed on that assumption.

Multiemployer bargaining itself is a well established, important, pervasive method of collective bargaining, offering advantages to both management and labor. See Appendix (multiemployer bargaining accounts for more than 40% of major collective bargaining agreements, and is used in such industries as construction, transportation, retail trade, clothing manufacture, and real estate, as well as professional sports); NLRB v. Truck Drivers, 353 U.S. 87, 95 (1957) (Buffalo Linen) (Congress saw multiemployer bargaining as "a vital factor in the effectuation of the national policy of promoting labor peace through strengthened collective bargaining"); Charles D. Bonanno Linen Service, Inc. v. NLRB, 454 U.S. 404, 409, n. 3 (1982) (Bonanno Linen) (multiemployer bargaining benefits both management and labor, by saving bargaining resources, by encouraging development of industry wide worker benefits programs that smaller employers could not otherwise afford, and by inhibiting employer competition at the workers' expense); Brief for Respondent NLRB in Bonanno Linen, O. T. 1981, No. 80-931, p. 10, n. 7 (same); General Subcommittee on Labor, House Committee on Education and Labor, Multiemployer Association Bargaining and its Impact on the Collective Bargaining Process, 88th Cong., 2d Sess. 10-19, 32-33 (Comm. Print 1964) (same); see also C. Bonnett, Employers' Associations in the United States: A Study of Typical Associations (1922) (history). The upshot is that the practice at issue here plays a significant role in a collective bargaining process that itself comprises an important part of the Nation's industrial relations system.

In these circumstances, to subject the practice to antitrust law is to require antitrust courts to answer a host of important practical questions about how collective bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions is to proceed--the very result that the implicit labor exemption seeks to avoid. And it is to place in jeopardy some of the potentially beneficial labor related effects that multiemployer bargaining can achieve. That is because unlike labor law, which sometimes welcomes anticompetitive agreements conducive to industrial harmony, antitrust law forbids all agreements among competitors (such as competing employers) that unreasonably lessen competition among or between them in virtually any respect whatsoever. See, e.g., Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. v. United States, 282 U.S. 30 (1930) (agreement to insert arbitration provisions in motion picture licensing contracts). Antitrust law also sometimes permits judges or juries to premise antitrust liability upon little more than uniform behavior among competitors, preceded by conversations implying that later uniformity might prove desirable, see, e.g., United States v. General Motors Corp., 384 U.S. 127, 142-143 (1966); United States v. Foley, 598 F. 2d 1323, 1331" 1332 (CA4 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1043 (1980), or accompanied by other conduct that in context suggests that each competitor failed to make an independent decision, see, e.g., American Tobacco Co. v. United States, 328 U.S. 781, 809-810 (1946); United States v. Masonite Corp., 316 U.S. 265, 275 (1942); Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. United States, 306 U.S. 208, 226-227 (1939). See generally 6 P. Areeda, Antitrust Law ¶¶1416-1427 (1986); Turner, The Definition of Agreement Under the Sherman Act: Conscious Parallelism and Refusals to Deal, 75 Harv. L. Rev. 655 (1962).

If the antitrust laws apply, what are employers to do once impasse is reached? If all impose terms similar to their last joint offer, they invite an antitrust action premised upon identical behavior (along with prior or accompanying conversations) as tending to show a common understanding or agreement. If any, or all, of them individually impose terms that differ significantly from that offer, they invite an unfair labor practice charge. Indeed, how can employers safely discuss their offers together even before a bargaining impasse occurs? A preimpasse discussion about, say, the practical advantages or disadvantages of a particular proposal, invites a later antitrust claim that they agreed to limit the kinds of action each would later take should an impasse occur. The same is true of postimpasse discussions aimed at renewed negotiations with the union. Nor would adherence to the terms of an expired collective bargaining agreement eliminate a potentially plausible antitrust claim charging that they had "conspired" or tacitly "agreed" to do so, particularly if maintaining the status quo were not in the immediate economic self interest of some. Cf. Interstate Circuit, supra, at 222-223; 6 Areeda, supra, at ¶1425. All this is to say that to permit antitrust liability here threatens to introduce instability and uncertainty into the collective bargaining process, for antitrust law often forbids or discourages the kinds of joint discussions and behavior that the collective bargaining process invites or requires.

We do not see any obvious answer to this problem. We recognize, as the Government suggests, that, in principle, antitrust courts might themselves try to evaluate particular kinds of employer understandings, finding them "reasonable" (hence lawful) where justified by collective bargaining necessity. But any such evaluation means a web of detailed rules spun by many different nonexpert antitrust judges and juries, not a set of labor rules enforced by a single expert administrative body, namely the Labor Board. The labor laws give the Board, not antitrust courts, primary responsibility for policing the collective bargaining process. And one of their objectives was to take from antitrust courts the authority to determine, through application of the antitrust laws, what is socially or economically desirable collective bargaining policy. See supra, at 3-4; see also Jewel Tea, 381 U. S., at 716-719 (opinion of Goldberg, J.).

Both petitioners and their supporters advance several suggestions for drawing the exemption boundary line short of this case. We shall explain why we find them unsatisfactory.

Petitioners claim that the implicit exemption applies only to labor management agreements--a limitation that they deduce from caselaw language, see, e.g., Connell, 421 U. S., at 622 (exemption for "some union employer agreements") (emphasis added), and from a proposed principle--that the exemption must rest upon labor management consent. The language, however, reflects only the fact that the cases previously before the Court involved collective bargaining agreements, see Connell, supra, at 619-620; Pennington, 381 U. S., at 660; Jewel Tea, supra, at 679-680; the language does not reflect the exemption's rationale. See 50 F. 3d, at 1050.

Nor do we see how an exemption limited by petitioners' principle of labor management consent could work. One cannot mean the principle literally--that the exemption applies only to understandings embodied in a collective bargaining agreement--for the collective bargaining process may take place before the making of any agreement or after an agreement has expired. Yet a multiemployer bargaining process itself necessarily involves many procedural and substantive understandings among participating employers as well as with the union. Petitioners cannot rescue their principle by claiming that the exemption applies only insofar as both labor and management consent to those understandings. Often labor will not (and should not) consent to certain common bargaining positions that employers intend to maintain. Cf. Areeda & Hovenkamp, Antitrust Law, at ¶229'd, p. 277 (Supp. 1995) ("[J]oint employer preparation and bargaining in the context of a formal multi employer bargaining unit is clearly exempt"). Similarly, labor need not consent to certain tactics that this Court has approved as part of the multiemployer bargaining process, such as unit wide lockouts and the use of temporary replacements. See NLRB v. Brown, 380 U.S. 278, 284 (1965); Buffalo Linen, 353 U. S., at 97.

Petitioners cannot save their consent principle by weakening it, as by requiring union consent only to the multiemployer bargaining process itself. This general consent is automatically present whenever multiemployer bargaining takes place. See Hi Way Billboards, Inc., 206 N. L. R. B. 22 (1973) (multiemployer unit "based on consent" and "established by an unequivocal agreement by the parties"), enf. denied on other grounds, 500 F. 2d 181 (CA5 1974); Weyerhaeuser Co., 166 N. L. R. B. 299, 299-300 (1967). As so weakened, the principle cannot help decide which related practices are, or are not, subject to antitrust immunity.

The Solicitor General argues that the exemption should terminate at the point of impasse. After impasse, he says, "employers no longer have a duty under the labor laws to maintain the status quo," and "are free as a matter of labor law to negotiate individual arrangements on an interim basis with the union." Brief for United States et al. as Amici Curiae 17.

Employers, however, are not completely free at impasse to act independently. The multiemployer bargaining unit ordinarily remains intact; individual employers cannot withdraw. Bonanno Linen, 454 U. S., at 410-413. The duty to bargain survives; employers must stand ready to resume collective bargaining. See, e.g., Worldwide Detective Bureau, 296 N. L. R. B. 148, 155 (1989); Hi Way Billboards, Inc., 206 N. L. R. B., at 23. And individual employers can negotiate individual interim agreements with the union only insofar as those agreements are consistent with "the duty to abide by the results of group bargaining." Bonanno Linen, supra, at 416. Regardless, the absence of a legal "duty" to act jointly is not determinative. This Court has implied antitrust immunities that extend beyond statutorily required joint action to joint action that a statute-expressly or impliedly allows or assumes must also be immune." 1 P. Areeda & D. Turner, Antitrust Law ¶224, p. 145 (1978); see, e.g., Gordon v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc., 422 U.S. 659, 682-691 (1975) (immunizing application of joint rule that securities law permitted, but did not require); United States v. National Assn. of Securities Dealers, Inc., 422 U.S. 694, 720-730 (1975) (same).

More importantly, the simple "impasse" line would not solve the basic problem we have described above. Supra, at 9-10. Labor law permits employers, after impasse, to engage in considerable joint behavior, including joint lockouts and replacement hiring. See, e.g., Brown, supra, at 289 (hiring of temporary replacement workers after lockout was "reasonably adapted to the achievement of a legitimate end--preserving the integrity of the multiemployer bargaining unit"). Indeed, as a general matter, labor law often limits employers to four options at impasse: (1) maintain the status quo, (2) implement their last offer, (3) lock out their workers (and either shut down or hire temporary replacements), or (4) negotiate separate interim agreements with the union. See generally 1 Hardin, The Developing Labor Law, at 516-520, 696-699. What is to happen if the parties cannot reach an interim agreement? The other alternatives are limited. Uniform employer conduct is likely. Uniformity--at least when accompanied by discussion of the matter--invites antitrust attack. And such attack would ask antitrust courts to decide the lawfulness of activities intimately related to the bargaining process.

The problem is aggravated by the fact that "impasse" is often temporary, see Bonanno Linen, supra, at 412 (approving Board's view of impasse as "a recurring feature in the bargaining process . . . a temporary deadlock or hiatus in negotiations which in almost all cases is eventually broken, through either a change of mind or the application of economic force ") (internal quotation marks omitted); W. Simkin & N. Fidandis, Mediation and the Dynamics of Collective Bargaining 139-140 (2d ed. 1986); it may differ from bargaining only in degree, see 1 Hardin, supra, at 691-696; Taft Broadcasting Co., 163 N. L. R. B., at 478; it may be manipulated by the parties for bargaining purposes, see Bonanno Linen, supra, at 413, n. 8 (parties might, for strategic purposes, "precipitate an impasse"); and it may occur several times during the course of a single labor dispute, since the bargaining process is not over when the first impasse is reached, cf. J. Bartlett, Familiar Quotations 754:8 (16th ed. 1992). How are employers to discuss future bargaining positions during a temporary impasse? Consider, too, the adverse consequences that flow from failing to guess how an antitrust court would later draw the impasse line. Employers who erroneously concluded that impasse had not been reached would risk antitrust liability were they collectively to maintain the status quo, while employers who erroneously concluded that impasse had occurred would risk unfair labor practice charges for prematurely suspending multiemployer negotiations.

The Solicitor General responds with suggestions for softening an "impasse" rule by extending the exemption after impasse "for such time as would be reasonable in the circumstances" for employers to consult with counsel, confirm that impasse has occurred, and adjust their business operations, Brief for United States et al. as Amici Curiae 24; by reestablishing the exemption once there is a "resumption of good faith bargaining," id., at 18, n. 5; and by looking to antitrust law's "rule of reason" to shield--"in some circumstances"--such joint actions as the unit wide lockout or the concerted maintenance of previously established joint benefit or retirement plans, ibid. But even as so modified, the impasse related rule creates an exemption that can evaporate in the middle of the bargaining process, leaving later antitrust courts free to second guess the parties' bargaining decisions and consequently forcing them to choose their collective bargaining responses in light of what they predict or fear that antitrust courts, not labor law administrators, will eventually decide. Cf. Dallas General Drivers, Warehousemen and Helpers, Local Union No. 745 v. NLRB, 355 F. 2d 842, 844-845 (CADC 1966) ("The problem of deciding when further bargaining . . . is futile is often difficult for the bargainers and is necessarily so for the Board. But in the whole complex of industrial relations few issues are less suited to appellate judicial appraisal . . . or better suited to the expert experience of a board which deals constantly with such problems").

Petitioners and their supporters argue in the alternative for a rule that would exempt postimpasse agreement about bargaining "tactics," but not postimpasse agreement about substantive "terms," from the reach of antitrust. See 50 F. 3d, at 1066-1069 (Wald, J., dissenting). They recognize, however, that both the Board and the courts have said that employers can, and often do, employ the imposition of "terms" as a bargaining "tactic." See, e.g., American Ship Building Co. v. NLRB, 380 U.S. 300, 316 (1965); Colorado Ute Elec. Assn., Inc. v. NLRB, 939 F. 2d 1392, 1404 (CA10 1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 955 (1992); Circuit Wise, Inc., 309 N. L. R. B. 905, 921 (1992); Hi Way Billboards, 206 N. L. R. B., at 23; Bonanno Linen, 243 N. L. R. B., at 1094. This concession as to joint "tactical" implementation would turn the presence of an antitrust exemption upon a determination of the employers' primary purpose or motive. See, e.g., 50 F. 3d, at 1069 (Wald, J., dissenting). But to ask antitrust courts, insulated from the bargaining process, to investigate an employer group's subjective motive is to ask them to conduct an inquiry often more amorphous than those we have previously discussed. And, in our view, a labor/antitrust line drawn on such a basis would too often raise the same related (previously discussed) problems. See supra, at 4-5, 9-10; Jewel Tea, 381 U. S., at 716 (opinion of Goldberg, J.) (expressing concern about antitrust judges "roaming at large" through the bargaining process).

The petitioners make several other arguments. They point, for example, to cases holding applicable, in collective bargaining contexts, general "backdrop" statutes, such as a state statute requiring a plant closing employer to make employee severance payments, Fort Halifax Packing Co. v. Coyne, 482 U.S. 1 (1987), and a state statute mandating certain minimum health benefits, Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, 471 U.S. 724 (1985). Those statutes, however, " `neither encourage[d] nor discourage[d] the collective bargaining processes that are the subject of the [federal labor laws].' " Fort Halifax, supra, at 21 (quoting Metropolitan Life, supra, at 755). Neither did those statutes come accompanied with antitrust's labor related history. Cf. Oliver, 358 U. S., at 295-297 (state antitrust law interferes with collective bargaining and is not applicable to labor management agreement).

Petitioners also say that irrespective of how the labor exemption applies elsewhere to multiemployer collective bargaining, professional sports is "special." We can understand how professional sports may be special in terms of, say, interest, excitement, or concern. But we do not understand how they are special in respect to labor law's antitrust exemption. We concede that the clubs that make up a professional sports league are not completely independent economic competitors, as they depend upon a degree of cooperation for economic survival. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla., 468 U.S. 85, 101-102 (1984); App. 110-115 (declaration of NFL Commissioner). In the present context, however, that circumstance makes the league more like a single bargaining employer, which analogy seems irrelevant to the legal issue before us.

We also concede that football players often have special individual talents, and, unlike many unionized workers, they often negotiate their pay individually with their employers. See post, at 5 (Stevens, J., dissenting). But this characteristic seems simply a feature, like so many others, that might give employees (or employers) more (or less) bargaining power, that might lead some (or all) of them to favor a particular kind of bargaining, or that might lead to certain demands at the bargaining table. We do not see how it could make a critical legal difference in determining the underlying framework in which bargaining is to take place. See generally Jacobs & Winter, Antitrust Principles and Collective Bargaining by Athletes: Of Superstars in Peonage, 81 Yale L. J. 1 (1971). Indeed, it would be odd to fashion an antitrust exemption that gave additional advantages to professional football players (by virtue of their superior bargaining power) that transport workers, coal miners, or meat packers would not enjoy.

The dissent points to other "unique features" of the parties' collective bargaining relationship, which, in the dissent's view, make the case "atypical." Post, at 5. It says, for example, that the employers imposed the restraint simply to enforce compliance with league wide rules, and that the bargaining consisted of nothing more than the sending of a "notice," and therefore amounted only to "so called" bargaining. Post, at 6-7. Insofar as these features underlie an argument for looking to the employers' true purpose, we have already discussed them. See supra, at 15-16. Insofar as they suggest that there was not a genuine impasse, they fight the basic assumption upon which the District Court, the Court of Appeals, the petitioners, and this Court, rest the case. See 782 F. Supp. 125, 134 (DC 1991); 50 F. 3d, at 1056-1057; Pet. for Cert. i. Ultimately, we cannot find a satisfactory basis for distinguishing football players from other organized workers. We therefore conclude that all must abide by the same legal rules.

* * *

For these reasons, we hold that the implicit ("nonstatutory") antitrust exemption applies to the employer conduct at issue here. That conduct took place during and immediately after a collective bargaining negotiation. It grew out of, and was directly related to, the lawful operation of the bargaining process. It involved a matter that the parties were required to negotiate collectively. And it concerned only the parties to the collective bargaining relationship.

Our holding is not intended to insulate from antitrust review every joint imposition of terms by employers, for an agreement among employers could be sufficiently distant in time and in circumstances from the collective bargaining process that a rule permitting antitrust intervention would not significantly interfere with that process. See, e.g., 50 F. 3d, at 1057 (suggesting that exemption lasts until collapse of the collective bargaining relationship, as evidenced by decertification of the union); El Cerrito Mill & Lumber Co., 316 N. L. R. B., at 1006-1007 (suggesting that "extremely long" impasse, accompanied by "instability" or "defunctness" of multiemployer unit, might justify union withdrawal from group bargaining). We need not decide in this case whether, or where, within these extreme outer boundaries to draw that line. Nor would it be appropriate forus to do so without the detailed views of the Board, to whose "specialized judgment" Congress "intended to leave" many of the "inevitable questions concerning multiemployer bargaining bound to arise in the future." Buffalo Linen, 353 U. S., at 96 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Jewel Tea, 381 U. S., at 710, n. 18.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

It is so ordered.

APPENDIX TO OPINION OF BREYER, J.

TABLE A

Major Bargaining Units and Employment in Private

Industry, by Type of Bargaining Unit, 1994.

(Covers bargaining units of 1,000 or more workers.)

Number Percent

Type Units Employment Units Employment

I

522

2,305,478

44

43

M&S

664

3,040,159

56

57

Total

1,186

5,345,637

100

100

I = Multiemployer.

M = One company, more than one location.

S = One company, single location.

Source: U. S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, unpublished data (Feb. 14, 1996) (available in Clerk of Court's case file).

TABLE B

Major Multiemployer Collective Bargaining Units and Employment in Private Industry, by Industry, 1994.

(Covers bargaining units of 1,000 or more workers.)

Number Percent

Type Units Employment Units Employment

All industries

522

2,305,478

100

100

Manufacturing

45

210,050

9

9

Food

13

50,750

2

2

Apparel

23

141,600

4

6

Other

9

17,700

2

1

Nonmanufacturing

477

2,095,428

91

91

Mining

2

67,500

(1

)3

Construction

337

995,443

65

43

Railroads

12

189,183

2

8

Other transportation

20

156,662

4

7

Wholesale trade

6

8,500

1

(1

) Retail trade

37

314,100

7

14

Real estate

11

85,800

2

4

Hotels and motels

11

79,200

2

3

Business services

13

63,200

2

3

Health services

8

65,100

2

3

Other

20

70,740

4

3

(1) = More than 0 and less than 0.05 percent.

Source: U. S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, unpublished data (Apr. 17, 1996) (available in Clerk of Court's case file).