AFL-CIO supports dismantling of NFL players’ union — at least temporarily

Chris Moody Contributor
Font Size:

It’s not every day the AFL-CIO encourages workers to dismantle their labor union and abandon collective bargaining, but in the case of the NFL Players Association’s battle with team owners, Big Labor is cheering it on.

While unions in states like Wisconsin and Indiana protest in defense of collective bargaining rights, the AFL-CIO is actively championing NFL players to dissolve their union and drop their AFL-CIO membership to better position themselves in a contract fight with the league’s owners. The players’ union is expected to disband its labor union so its athletes, many of them millionaires, can lock down a bigger payday. By decertifying the union, players will have the freedom to sue the NFL individually under anti-trust laws, which will avoid a lockout and increase the likelihood of forcing the owners to budge from their demands.

The disagreement is largely over how to divide the roughly $9 billion the NFL brings in each year. The owners currently get $1 billion off the top and divide about 60 percent of the proceeds among the players in compensation. The owners want another billion, to be used for stadium maintenance and construction, and a season with 18 games.

A failure to reach an agreement between the owners and the players could lead to a lockout, and even delay or cancel the 2011 football season.

The AFL-CIO, known to fight hard to keep unions intact, doesn’t seem to mind that an entire industry is about to abandon the labor movement — if only for a short time.

“We’re going to support the decisions that they make and what they feel is best to get to an agreement with the league and make sure there’s a decision next year and make sure there isn’t a lockout,” AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein told The Daily Caller. “They have a lot of different ways they’re considering to get to that agreement and that’s certainly one of them.”

For some, Big Labor’s support of the NFLPA’s strategy raises serious questions about the movement’s commitment to its ideals and perhaps even its relevancy. Since these workers can plausibly get a better deal if they drop their union affiliation, why wouldn’t other industries be encouraged to do the same?

“It certainly is hypocritical how hard they fight against regular employees having an up or down vote on getting rid of their union and at the same time they’ve encouraged it in this one instance,” Patrick Semmens of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation told TheDC. “There aren’t really any principles behind what organized labor’s trying to do.”

Accusations of hypocrisy, Goldstein said, are “bogus,” stressing that there’s a difference between believing in the right to collectively bargain and using it as a strategy. According the AFL-CIO, the decision to back the players’ decision is purely about results. To hear them tell it, winning the dispute is worth undermining the union so long as the tactic works.

“The goal here is to get the agreement done,” Goldstein told TheDC. “Our goals of keeping union membership or affiliates of the AFL-CIO is secondary to making sure that these cities and workers don’t miss out on a season.”

Plus, “they can always recertify the union,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time the players decertified their union when it was convenient. During the last major contract dispute with NFL owners in the late 1980s, the players successfully decertified their union after negotiations broke down with the owners. When the players got what they wanted, they returned to the union. Twenty-two years later, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is refusing to rule out the possibility that they’ll do the same thing again this year.

In this case, it would seem that the AFL-CIO is conceding that their traditional tactics are not always the most effective strategy for workers. But the NFL fight is different than most labor disputes: It’s rare, for instance, that the workers fighting the bosses each earn more than $300,000 per year, with many others raking in salaries in the millions.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has even come under fire from liberal critics who question why the labor leader would stand behind an industry made up largely of millionaires. He took a particularly severe verbal beating from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who was outraged that one of the largest groups in the country would be losing sleep over anyone with a seven-figure salary.

“Exactly how many minutes of your day do you spend worrying about 15 million-dollar football players?” O’Donnell asked Trumka during an episode of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Sept. 9. “Is this the biggest waste of your attention that could possibly come your way? Is it embarrassing for you to have to talk about these guys?…These are the people who the president of the AFL-CIO spends his day worries about, workers who make over $300,000 a year at a minimum?…You can do this with a straight face?”

Trumka shot back: “I worry about all workers…You get football players who get disabled on the job. Then they don’t get health care and they don’t get pension. A worker is a worker. Do they get a higher salary? Yes they do. But is the safety on the job the same issue? Yes it is.”

“No, it’s not!” O’Donnell replied. “I am a member of the AFL-CIO. I don’t want a penny of my dues going toward your energy being spent on these people!”

If things go as planned, O’Donnell will get his wish.

At least for a few months.

Email Chris Moody and follow him on Twitter.