What Do NFL Linebackers and Public School Teachers Have in Common? They're Targets in the Same War on Unions
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From Wisconsin to Washington, DC, from the factory floor to the football field, men and women are facing unprecedented attacks at work. In the government arena, state policymakers are moving to strip public employees of their right to bargain collectively and scale back compensation for the nurses, social workers, and first responders who serve our communities. NFL owners—despite solid profits—have locked out the players.
Politicians are quick to pit public employees against taxpayers; owners suggest it’s the players against the fans. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like it or not, we’re all part of the same, interconnected economy.
Let me explain by first honing in on public employees, the most convenient scapegoats for state and local budget woes.
Extremist legislators want us to believe that their attacks on public-sector workers are about doing right by taxpayers. But their game is up thanks to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and state Senate Republicans, who opted to sacrifice a big state budget cut in order to gut bargaining rights for public employees. After all, if politicians like Gov. Walker were serious about addressing budget shortfalls, they wouldn’t be handing out tax giveaways to the CEOs who bankrolled their campaigns.
Think these disputes don’t have to do with your job? The reality is that local economies depend on public employees’ spending. In Wisconsin alone, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Steven Deller estimates that 21,843 jobs could be lost as a result of Gov. Walker’s budget. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the shift we’ll see across the board if public employees’ unions aren’t there to hold the line, further accelerating employers’ ability to depress work standards for all of us.
And if politicians like Gov. Scott Walker succeed in dismantling collective bargaining rights for public employees, we know other workers will be next on the chopping block. In fact, efforts are already underway in states across the country to pass right-to-work-for-less legislation and repeal community-supporting project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws. All of these initiatives are designed to weaken unions—the last line of defense against unbridled corporate power. All play a part in ensuring that the top five percent hold over 63 percent of the wealth in this country
Meanwhile, NFL players are locked in their own struggle with the NFL owners, and the similarities are striking. The owners, like high-profit-yielding CEOs and certain state legislators, will tell you that the concessions they’re demanding from players are a financial necessity, but even a cursory fact check debunks those claims.
Owners have seen their teams’ value rise 16.2 percent since 2006, yet in 2008 the owners backed out of their collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association before it was due to expire in 2012. The league refuses to offer any real financial documentation to justify their position, and they’re the first to admit that the business of football has never been more successful. Adding insult to injury, they have ended health insurance for players and their families for the duration of the league-initiated lockout.
The owners have frequently stated that their demands would benefit the sport and its fans if only the players would agree to the concessions. However, if the lockout forces the cancellation of this year’s football season, the ramifications are serious—and they extend far beyond the stadium gates. No one will be harder hit than the working women and men who run the concession stands, work as ushers in the stadium, provide security for fans, and serve as emergency responders. They depend on those eight game-day paychecks to make ends meet.
In total, based on the NFL’s own numbers, the lockout will affect 150,000 jobs, and cause more than $160 million in lost revenue in every city with an NFL team. Know who lives in those cities? NFL fans. That hardly seems like a benefit.
With our economy still struggling to get back on track, making working families pay with their jobs to pad record-setting profits for CEOs is simply indefensible. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news—not by a long shot. If we’ve learned anything from 2011, it’s that Americans just don’t give up that easily. When our neighbors are under attack, we stand together and we stand strong. That’s why workers of all stripes—blue collar, and white collar, union and non-union, Democrats and Republicans, celebrities and athletes—flooded Madison and state capitols from coast to coast to make their voices heard in protest. That’s why the recall efforts of the Wisconsin state senators who supported Walker’s unionbusting bill are poised to make history. And that’s why poll after poll shows that Americans don’t support policies designed to pad the pockets of CEOs on the backs of middle class families.
Because whether you’re a football player or a firefighter, a teacher or a customer service representative, the fact remains that workers—acting together through their unions—are the last and best defense to stop the attacks on the middle class. Without them, we cannot restore balance to our economy, and the assault from far-right politicians and exploitative CEOs will go unanswered.
We’ve all seen the toll that unchecked corporate influence can take on this country. And now, together, we’re fighting back.
Kimberly Freeman Brown is executive director of American Rights at Work, a labor policy and advocacy organization.