National Football League Backs Collective Bargaining Process
Good news for football fans and workers across the country comes as Jeff Pash, general counsel and lead labor negotiator for the National Football League, says he supports collective bargaining rights and he’s committed to them. The NFL and the players union have extended their negotiations for another week and both sides appear committed to resolving their differences.
Lockout threats came as the NFL announced they were opting out of the collective bargaining process with the NFLPA, claiming it wasn’t working for them even as they refused to open their books to provide evidence of economic distress. This situation isn’t the same as Wisconsin, obviously, but the similarities are there: A boss who claims there’s no more money, but expects the workers to take that on faith while appearing to have money to grant to tax breaks or a business that generated nine billion dollars in 2009 as the NFL did.
The looming lockout threats had football fans across the country in an uproar. More importantly, over 150,000 jobs nationwide — everyone from ticket takers to beer vendors — are hanging on the outcome of the NFL/union standoff.
The NFLPA and individual players see the parallels between their situation and the protesters in Wisconsin, and have come out in support of their union brothers and sisters. The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers have already come out in support of the Wisconsin protests, with Brady Poppinga and Jason Spitz joining five former Packers in issuing a statement saying, “….The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class. When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards. Wisconsin’s long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s.”
Even the NFL itself has done something that Gov. Scott Walker won’t do, they came out in support of collective bargaining. Yesterday, Jeff Pash (NFL) was quoted as saying, “…But we are committed to collective bargaining. All over this country, collective bargaining is being challenged. We’re committed to it. We believe it can work. It has worked. We believe it will work. We are glad to have the opportunity to come back here, next Monday, continue to work with Director Cohen and his staff and hopefully deliver an agreement that will work for our fans.”
As we watch the David vs Goliath battles across the country with collective bargaining as the main issue, we’re forced to reexamine the value of unionization in our misers. It’s easy for bosses to smear football players as overpaid, but Fox News and the Republicans are just as successful at selling the meme of the greedy teacher and lazy police officer to their viewers.
The real question isn’t how much money a player makes, but what the market will bear. Republicans love the free market when it can be used to their advantage, but when it works against corporate interests, they abandon it. Professional athletes have a limited shelf lives. The average NFL player’s career lasts for 4 years. They give their bodies to the sport and hope they come out the other end in tact. During their run, they are very well paid, but one only has to look at the broken down and in many cases impoverished former players of by gone generations to understand the value of a union.
Many fans have threatened to boycott the NFL if the players are locked out, just as many Americans are threatening a boycott of Scott Walker’s sugar daddies the Koch brothers if the governor will not stop trying to destroy collective bargaining rights. A consumer can boycott a product in an attempt to be heard, while workers join can union in order to have collective bargaining rights. Power comes from numbers when one is dealing with an entity that has no moral center, no compassion, but only exists to make money. Without the power of a united stand, the people are “helpless.”
The same market will reward team owners even more than the players because the NFL continues to make money off of the players long after they have left the game. (Think NFL Films and retro jerseys, just to name two examples). Negotiations between the players unions and the NFL are therefore between a commodity (the player) and purchaser (team owners who want to hire the player).
There was, however, a huge advantage that the owners had originally, as they brokered a deal with TV networks to be paid $4 billion whether or not the games were actually played. The owners were happy to force a lockout because unlike the players, they were still going to be paid, but the owners no longer hold this ace. Howard Fendrich, the AP Pro Football Writer, reports, “(NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) Goodell dismissed the notion that the NFL became more willing to negotiate after Tuesday’s decision by U.S. District Court judge David Doty that sided with the union in a case about whether the league can have access to about $4 billion from TV contracts. The union accused the NFL of improperly negotiating deals to have money available in event of a lockout, and Doty – who has jurisdiction over NFL labor matters under the old CBA – agreed.”
The NFL was set to make $4 billion by locking out the players. The corporation (the NFL) stood to profit either way, so of course they chose to threaten a lockout and refuse to negotiate. Why would they negotiate with an entity they don’t need? As a business, profit is their only concern. That is their right, just as it is the players’ right to band together in order to have the power to be heard against the gnawing greed of the NFL’s bottom line. The NFL’s sole purpose is to reward the shareholders to whom they have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits, a.k.a the 32 team owners.
In a labor dispute critics often attribute the motive of greed to employees, but they can also be motivated by pride, the ability to feed their families, a feeling of being respected, etc. Calling unions greedy is a classic case of projection that the public tends to buy because the folks behind that meme own the media and the power to buy the narrative.
Only through collective action do employees have any power to force employers to come to the table and hear their voices. So whether it’s the fans boycotting a corporation collectively or players and teachers unions standing up for the folks in the field, collective power is the only power there is and therefore, it’s a necessity and not a perk.
Solidarity gives the people the power to have a voice. Without collective bargaining rights and solidarity, we are all slaves to corporate masters. The NFLPA issued a statement on Tuesday supporting Wisconsin workers, “The NFL Players Association will always support efforts protecting a worker’s right to join a union and collectively bargain. Today, the NFLPA stands in solidarity with its organized labor brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.”
The NFLPA was able to force the NFL to sit down with them after the NFL lost their ability to turn a profit without the players. Suddenly, the NFL respects collective bargaining again.
The next time someone smears a union worker as greedy, we need to remind ourselves that one entity in this fight is a human being and the other is an entity whose only purpose is profit, or in the case of Wisconsin an ideological quest to redistribute wealth to corporations through the privatization of public services.
Although the NFL labor battle is a contest between millionaires and billionaires, the parallels between it and Wisconsin’s public employee fights are striking. The NFL owners were brought to the bargaining table by outside forces and political pressure will force Governor Walker to do the same. Power in negotiations with a corporation or an ideologically blind puppet governor comes from one of two sources: money or solidarity.
If the NFL can respect collective bargaining rights with so much money at stake, why can’t Governor Walker? Both sports and politicians depend on public support for the livelihood. The NFL and the NFLPA seem to understand that an unhappy public is bad for both of them. This lesson is lost on Scott Walker who is steadfast in his desire to deny the will of the people in exchange for ideological martyrdom.
Image: NFL Players