If it weren’t for a bunch of renegade state senators, a pugnacious governor, ongoing protests and the fates of thousands of public employees, the biggest labor story in the country would certainly be the NFL’s lapsing collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of football-less fall (pro football, anyway). Far away from the political theater in Wisconsin (and Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania), the NFL and the NFL Players Association are negotiating with a federal mediator in Washington, D.C., and are in the middle of a one-week extension of their agreement.
At stake is the more than $9 billion in revenue the league annually earns and how much of that total the owners will be able to keep. Also being debated is the possibility of a lengthened season, more roster spots, how much rookies are paid, and better post-career benefits for players.
But while the nation’s football fans hold their breath, the showdown between owners “worth close to a billion dollars” and “players making millions dollars” has undoubtedly been overshadowed by public sector unions and state budget deficits across the country.
Given that the league minimum for rookies ($325,000) is almost 10 times the average starting salary of a Wisconsin teacher ($32,642) and Milwaukee alone has three times more teachers then the NFL has players, you wouldn’t think there is that much in common between the two disputes.
But that hasn’t stopped members of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers from coming out to support public workers in their home state. “These hard-working people [Wisconsin public workers] are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work,” said all-pro cornerback Charles Woodson in a statement last month.
Although the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which represents nearly 100,000 public education employees, highlights the Packer solidarity on its website, it doesn’t appear to have come out in support of the players in return.
But despite the differences between public employees and professional football players, public opinion in both clashes seems to be trending toward labor.
A Wall Street Jounal/NBC poll last week found that 62 percent oppose curtailing collective bargaining rights for public sector workers over health care, pensions and other benefits. And a whopping 77 percent thought that public sector employees should have the same rights as private sector union workers.
While the polling on the NFL labor dispute is not nearly as decisive (a Seton Hall Sports Survey found 18 percent siding with owners, 21 percent siding with players, and 53 percent saying neither), several prominent sports columnists have come down on the side of the players.
When asked about the possibility of getting involved in the NFL dispute, President Obama said, “The two parties should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening.” And in Wisconsin, a firm majority (65 percent) would like Governor Scott Walker to compromise with Democratic lawmakers and unions.