Pat Fitzgerald is a great football coach. He also seems to be a good man who wants to teach his players values. However, in coming out against his players joining a union, he is acting in a way that raises some hard questions that the coach does not answer. According to the players, their goal is to improve health care and academic opportunities, not salary. Coaches like Fitzgerald often make more than a million dollars a year. Fitzgerald said that unionizing is not in the players’ “best interest” and that all issues could be worked out through “communication” and “trust.”
The problem with this approach is that it leaves the individual player at the mercy of two powerful institutions: the university that grants his/her scholarship and the NCAA. It’s easy for the employer or the school to say, “Trust me. I’m doing what’s in your best interest.” According the Collegiate Athletes Players Association (CAPA), players have been punished by the NCAA for accepting food. Some universities have done little to help players who suffered injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives. According an article in Huffington Post, Northwestern recently opened a $225 million athletic facility. According to USA Today, Coach Fitzgerald’s annual compensation is $2.2 million. College sports generates big money. College sports has a union to protect its interest: the NCAA, which generates $433 million a year in revenue just by selling rights.
In this system, shouldn’t the players be allowed to have a unified voice that lets them protect their interest? Then again, most workers in America today have no protection. Maybe the young men on Northwestern’s football team will set a good example for the country. Until working people find a way to support each other, we will all be at the mercy of a system based on “trust.”
PS: In 2011, South Park put much of this debate in a hilarious perspective, especially the definition of student-athlete.
Apparently, college football players do. Think Progress reports that the National College Players Association has filed a petition on behalf of football players from Northwestern University to be recognized as members of a union. This effort is being support by the United Steelworkers Union.
I’ve long believed that college athletes who generate millions of dollars for their universities deserve some kind of compensation, and I have no problem with their organizing. However, it says a lot about our country when this story gets so much attention while the ongoing effort of low wage workers at Walmart and similar companies is almost ignored. Public sectors unions are under fire at the Supreme Court, again, with little or no coverage.
Until working people recognize that we are all in this together, it will be easy for the super rich and their lackeys in politics and the media to play games of divide and conquer. I hope low wage workers stand with college athletes in their struggle for union right. And I hope college athletes do the same for the people who serve them at fast food restaurants and big box retail stores. On this day that has seen the passing of the great Peter Seeger, a man who loved working people, we need to all stand together and support unions.
Today in over 100 cities workers at fast food restaurants walked off the job. It’s easy to call this a strike. We see people with signs walking a picket. We are used to seeing those images and don’t think enough about what it means when the people striking are not protected by a union. In most states, employers can fire employees for such action. These strikes show how desperate workers are getting in the U.S. Who can live on $8-$9 an hour, especially when they are scheduled to work less than 40 hours per week? The workers marching outside of fast food restaurants today are brave Americans, and they are giving us all a lesson in what it means to be a citizen.
Michelle Chen of In These Times (reposted on Common Dreams) reports that workers at musical instrument retailer Guitar Center are striking a power chord for wage justice. Workers at two of the chains +200 stores have unionized. Now others are joining the fight. Chen notes that these employees often are connected through interests outside of work, such as bands, which will give them even more reason to show solidarity when the going gets tough.
Expect the going to get tough – Bain has owned the business since 2007. However, it’s important to note that the unionized stores organized during Bain’s ownership. When workers hang together, they are impossible to stop. Are you listening, McDonald’s? Walmart?
Nurses who work for Sutter hospitals and nursing facility have fought and won concessions from management. However, it took 9 strikes and public pressure for them to move a company that was not above spreading falsehoods to hold back workers. As Rose Ann DeMoro reports in Common Dreams, the company also tried to intimidate workers through pay and benefit cuts. The nurses hung together, and they won, which is a good lesson for workers across the country and throughout the world.
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos points out two levels of exaggeration in Walmart’s recent promise to sell more American made products. First, most of the products will be food products, not manufactured goods. No American factories will open to supply goods to the country’s largest retailer. Second, as Walmart takes over the business of more established grocers, it pays its workers lower wages. Some established grocers have unionized workforces and pay decent wages. When Walmart drives them out of business, it drives down pay. Consumers pay less, and their neighbors are paid less. Under this model everyone loses – unless their last name is Walton.
My friend Bill Savage sent me an interesting post from the Seattle Stranger’s “Slog.” Boeing has had to move production from its non-union facility in South Carolina back to its unionized Washington plants. Why? It would cost more to move the line and the workers would not be as skilled. At least a few union jobs will be saved, that is, until Boeing finds a way to make the move work (for Boeing).
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) reports that a court in Saskatchewan has upheld the right of workers at Walmart to – gasp! – form a union. The province’s labor board had approved the union in 2008, which means Walmart has been fighting this decision for two years. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400 first applied to organize the store in 2004. Overall, this has been a six year struggle for working people.
In the U.S., we constantly hear how bad unions are. Unions delivered many of the benefits and security that once made the American middle class: 40 hour work week, overtime pay, pensions. Steadily, over the last 30 years (the Reagan Error), both blue and white collar workers have made concession after concession to save “their” jobs. Meanwhile the top 5% of income workers in this country (people who don’t have to work) have seen their incomes go up and up and up. Where is the justice? At least Canadian workers (and French workers and students) are fighting back. Americans need to wake up.