Brees opposes Saints on workers comp bill

Quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are on opposite sides of a battle over a proposed worker's compensation bill in Louisiana.

Brees pledged his support Tuesday for the NFL Players Association’s campaign to fight the bill, which they claim would limit the amount of worker’s compensation paid out to professional athletes in the state of Louisiana.

“Don’t get involved in politics often but Fighting 4 my teammates & LA workers. Say NO to Bill 1069,” tweeted Brees, a former member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, who also sent out a link to a release by the NFLPA, explaining the problems they have with the bill.

The Saints, however, support the bill because they believe it will make permanent the way the law has been interpreted multiple times by appellate courts and the state senate.

Essentially, the debate is over whether or not players should be paid worker’s comp benefits based on their projected annual salary or their current weekly salary at the time an injury occurs.

Both NFL spokesman Greg Aiello and the Saints’ outside counsel, Christopher Kane, stressed that the proposed bill won’t affect any of the injury and medical benefits that players receive as part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

It is solely a matter of calculating the amount of additional worker’s comp benefits that teams like the Saints are required to pay players for up to 10 years in Louisiana after their playing careers are over.

“It is a technical issue regarding how awards are calculated that codifies the current state law,” Aiello said. “It does not affect a player’s right to receive any of the league’s many injury and medical benefits to which he is entitled.”

Last week, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith came out strongly against the Saints’ efforts to push the bill.

“Our union exists to protect the rights that are constantly under attack from owners who don’t need the money, but they simply want the money,” Smith said. “And when we know this bill is being pushed by the Saints, to limit workers compensation benefits that are provided for under our CBA, what conclusion are we left with?”

However, the Saints stressed that the NFLPA is painting the debate inaccurately by claiming that the Saints are trying to change the way such disputes are settled.

Kane said that when the issue has reached an appellate court seven times in the past, the courts have agreed with the Saints’ interpretation six times.

And Kane said the Saints’ proposed bill is a response to the NFLPA’s repeated attempts to push an opposing bill through the Louisiana senate, bills he said were denied in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

“The main issue is that we didn’t pick this fight,” Kane said. “We are continuously being required to apply what the courts have already adjudicated, including now three legislative sessions (the senate bills being denied). I believe this will stop needless litigation on the issue.

“In our minds, it’s been ruled on, let’s move on.”

It’s a murky debate since NFL players typically earn the bulk of their salary through weekly game checks during the regular season and earn very little money during the offseason.

The NFLPA believes the bill would be a major problem for players who are injured during the offseason, because they typically only make per-diems during that time, which is not an accurate reflection of their salary.

“(House Bill) 1069 tries to exploit this structure and discriminate against professional athletes who are injured during the preseason when they have not begun to receive their annual salary under their annual contract,” the NFLPA said in its release.

However, in many of those past cases, the debate has centered around a player who was injured in the offseason -- when teams have 90 or more players invited to offseason camps. That makes the issue even murkier since a court can't fairly decide whether the player would have made the active roster.

Lawmakers who support the bill say that no other workers in the state are paid worker’s comp based on an estimate of future earnings.

"[Pro athletes] shouldn't get some special privilege to calculate their benefits on what might happen in the future," state Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, told the Associated Press last week after he co-sponsored the bill. "All I'm saying is: Treat these workers like every other worker in the state and it's not fundamentally unfair."

The NFLPA, however, believes that players should continue to be treated like any other employee in the state who is paid on an annual salary.

“Currently, professional athletes are treated the same as every other worker in Louisiana,” the NFLPA’s release said. “HB 1069 actually proposes treating them differently!”

The legislation deals with "any professional athlete," meaning it would affect the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, who like the Saints, are owned by Tom Benson.