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Monday, September 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — When even Scott Walker and Paul Ryan kind-of, sort-of side with labor against management, who knows what else is possible? Maybe they’ll endorse tax increases and say nice things about teachers unions.

For friends of labor, the revolt against the National Football League’s replacement refs, leading to the triumph of the real refs, is the most remarkable event since the workers at Henry Ford’s car company organized into the United Auto Workers union. And, really, could there be a better object lesson in the arrogance of the very rich — and also in the value of the labor performed by line workers whose contributions usually go unnoticed and unappreciated? No wonder the NFL’s management finally capitulated. The fans threw the flag on the owners and gave them no choice.

The contempt the proprietors of pro football felt for the referees was nicely captured last month by Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game,” Anderson said.

Let’s parse this. What it left out is that the game people pay to watch cannot be played well without highly competent and trained referees. The human beings Anderson relegated to insignificance matter, especially to the health and well-being of the players fans very much want to watch.

Maybe now there will be a new appreciation of what “worker safety” means. Thank God it did not take a severe injury to a star to force the owners off their hard line. That may have been on the mind of Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, who to his great credit told ESPN Radio earlier this week: “The game is being tarnished by an NFL [that] obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished.”

I doubt that Rodgers was surprised, given that the owners regularly refer to the game loved by tens of millions of Americans — myself included — with a term no doubt invented by some overpaid management consultant: the “product.” What a wonderful way of taking the game out of the game, robbing it of all human feeling and human responsibility.

The Executive Committee of the NFL Players Association noted this last week in a scathing letter to the owners. Calling for an end to the referee lockout, they charged that “there is substantial evidence that you have failed in your obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible.”

The letter continued: “As players, we see this game as more than the ‘product’ you reference at times. You cannot simply switch to a group of cheaper officials and fulfill your legal, moral and duty obligations to us and our fans.”

  • The truth behind organized labor is that without them we would not have a minimum wage, overtime pay, paid vacations, paid sick leave, participation in thrift plans or 401k, safety standards, and protection against corporate abuses.
    Yes, those improvements in labor conditions have increased the cost of labor in countries like the USA, Japan, Australia, and most Western European countries, but considering the alternative they are a risk well taken. The demonization of unions and overt opposition to organized labor loses credibility when they are unable to offer an alternative.

    • MRD1056

      Very well said Dominick!!!! Thank you

    • daniel bostdorf

      Let’s end the dialog on this “owners get flagged” trivila pursuit…

      Dominic Villa really should have the last say:

      “The truth behind organized labor is that without them we would not have a minimum wage, overtime pay, paid vacations, paid sick leave, Holiday pay, participation in thrift plans or 401k, safety standards, and protection against corporate abuses.
      Yes, those improvements have increased the cost of labor in countries like the USA, Japan, Australia, and most Western European countries, but considering the alternative that is a risk well taken. The demonization of unions and overt opposition to organized labor by the GOP loses credibility when they are unable to offer an alternative and rely strictly on the usual claims of socialism to undermine the ability of the working class to progress and prevent potential declines in revenue to the super rich.”

      BRAVO!

  • latebloomingrandma

    This was such a remarkable irony, occurring during such a union busting frenzy we have been experiencing. Shows how important the true worker bees are in our society. There’s an old story about how some high powered “important” men were gathered at a conference center. A sewage malfunction occurred and all the toilets overflowed. It soon became apparent that the single most important person in that building was a master plumber. It’s time to give workers their due respect.

  • Tom_D44

    Don’t fool yourselves. Big money was behind this decision as las vegas gamblers lost millions.

    • JohnRNC

      Tom – you have hit the nail on the head. This was no victory for the real labor unions – the ones that go to the mat for fair wages for the lowest paid and hold employers responsible for dangerous workplaces. This decision was based entirely on protecting the NFL Brand, game attendance, TV audience, the Vegas bookies and so on. The next time teachers or assembly line workers or air traffic controllers try to fight for basic necessities, a fair wage or workplace safety they will be steamrolled again – just like in Wisconsin. And Ryan, Scott and the spawn of the conservative movement will be right there denigrating the contribution of the working class.

      As long as “big money” employers continue to hold the economy hostage and keep jobs scarce, they will be able to dictate the rules to labor.

      The NFL and other pro sports hold a unique position in this economy because they depend on the public to watch, attend and basically become obsessed with the game. When that relationship starts to fray (as it has in just the first weeks of this football season), then it becomes more profitable for them to cooperate with labor.

      Ryan and company are behind the unions in this instance only because they weren’t enjoying the poorly officiated games – and the Packers lost on a crappy call.

      • Dave_dido

        I think this was a victory for labor. This was a case of workers realizing their value and sticking together to get a fair deal. If workers throughout the country would stick together they could restore the middle class. Unfortunately, their is no solidarity. Teachers and public employees in Ohio came together last year to fight a law restricting collective bargaining. Organized labor throughout the state supported them. But will the teachers and public employees support private sector unions next time there is an issue in the private sector? Probably not.
        Readers of this magazine need to realize that E.J. Dionne is addressing something much bigger than a blown call in a football game, much bigger than the NFL and Vegas bookies. It’s about a mentality of greed that exists in our country, manifest by the Romney/Ryan ticket, that says all wealth and profit derived from an enterprise must go to the top, the owners and ceo’s. The little guys, in this case the refs, are expendable and, if they don’t want to do the job, we’ll just get someone else. The guys at the top have no respect for the little guy, they don’t value the little guy as an important cog in the machine. That’s why ceo’s in U.S. companies have salaries over 500 times that of the workers. When the workers ask for a little more, like Oliver Twist asking the headmaster for a little more gruel, they get shouted down as left wing nut jobs,socialists, communists, class warfare starters, even “you people”.

  • The fans, players and coaches were hung out to dry by the greed of the ownership class. Trying to take away pensions plans just because most others don’t have them is a big problem in this country. Instead of working to ensure that others get good retirement and health plans the elites are taking away what is left of such programs at a record pace. All of this divide and conquer has worked very well for the anti-union and anti-worker class since Reagan dumped the air traffic controllers. That was the sign that union busting was going to be job one. You continually see working men and women expressing displeasure that the few union folks that are left are somehow getting a free ride at the expense of the masses. Hate, fear and distrust is used because it works.

  • daniel bostdorf

    Let’s end the dialog on this “owners get flagged” trivila pursuit…

    Dominic Villa really should have the last say:

    “The truth behind organized labor is that without them we would not have a minimum wage, overtime pay, paid vacations, paid sick leave, Holiday pay, participation in thrift plans or 401k, safety standards, and protection against corporate abuses.
    Yes, those improvements have increased the cost of labor in countries like the USA, Japan, Australia, and most Western European countries, but considering the alternative that is a risk well taken. The demonization of unions and overt opposition to organized labor by the GOP loses credibility when they are unable to offer an alternative and rely strictly on the usual claims of socialism to undermine the ability of the working class to progress and prevent potential declines in revenue to the super rich.”

    BRAVO!