Collective Bargaining Rights: Wisconsin Eerily Similar to NFL Labor Negotiations

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 18, 2011

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 07:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media during a press conference at Super Bowl XLV Media Center on February 7, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As labor issues heat up between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, everyone seems to have their own opinion on which side is right and which side is more greedy or entitled. Not surprisingly, many of those same battle lines are heating up over events in Madison, Wisconsin.

"Us Vs. Them" Is All Relative

One of the biggest misnomers of the NFL labor issue is that it is just "millionaires fighting with billionaires." Everyone says it, but that statement just isn't true. The vast majority of the members in the NFLPA aren't signing Peyton Manning-like deals or traveling via private jets.

Most NFL players only play two or three years in the league, they play at the end of the roster or on practice squads and are constantly looking for other jobs because they could be cut at any moment.

For every Tom Brady, there are 10 Keith Fitzhughs.

Fitzhugh, a one-time Mississippi State football standout, always dreamed about playing in the NFL, but chose railroad conducting over the New York Jets because the former offered better pay and more stability.

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In the end, the amount of money the players make, or that the owners are worth is a complete red herring to the discussion.

This labor battle is like every labor battle before it. It is about employers vs. employees. It doesn't matter how rich either side is. The success of the business depends on both, and the wealth of both is relative to the success of the business.

A stark contrast to the immensely successful NFL, is the bankrupt state of Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin state employees, by all accounts, live comfortably, working hard for their money in mostly-thankless jobs that are necessary for society to run smoothly. They work with slashed budgets and diminishing staffs. They work while those around them are laid off, wondering if they are next.

The business that is the state of Wisconsin is failing, and its employees are feeling the pinch.

The current economic climate of the country pities neither of these groups and envies both. With unemployment rates falling from all-time highs, many Americans dream of state employee salaries and wouldn't know what to do with NFL practice squad pay.

In the NFL, and in Wisconsin, no one would argue that plenty of people would love to be paid so well, or at all. However, too many on the outside are comparing apples to oranges and not looking at the actual matters at hand.

It's Not Always About Money

In the media, and around water coolers, everyone wants to talk about money.

Throwing out dollar amounts and screaming about entitlement is ubiquitous in discussions of both the NFL labor negotiations and Wisconsin politics. On the other hand, listening to Wisconsin state employees or NFL players, those two groups aren't concerned about dollars as much as they are about common sense. 

George Atallah, Assistant to the Executive Director of the NFLPA, states, "Players just want a fair deal."

Over and over, the union has expressed willingness to make concessions for the good of the game.

They just don't want to make concessions for the good of the owners' bottom line.

In Wisconsin, state employees obviously don't want to hamstring the government into bankruptcy. If the state goes under, they wouldn't have slashed wages, they'd have none. In fact, state employees recently made 100 million dollars worth of concessions to aid the state budget. They've also expressed willingness to negotiate further cuts.

The problem is, NFL owners and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker don't want to negotiate—at least, not fairly.

NFL owners want players to accept a deal without having to disclose their own financial records. The NFL has never been more successful, popular, or lucrative, but owners want the players to trust that teams are hemorrhaging money.

Scott Walker wants to take away the union's right to negotiate by legislating a solution. Rather than come to the table together, Walker wants to fundamentally change the way state employees unions across the nation operate.

In both situations, negotiations will settle matters, but all sides have to be willing to sit down.

"Take It Or Leave It" Just Won't Fly

The worst thing for the NFL and for the state of Wisconsin would be a work stoppage.

In the NFL, it would be a lockout—owners shutting the doors and telling players to stay home until a compromise is reached. In Wisconsin, a strike is looming as teachers have already taken sick days to protest the law on the legislative floor.

The final similarity between these two situations is how much people espouse the empty platitude of "take it or leave it."

NFL fans are really good at telling NFL players to "find a real job" if they don't like their multi-million dollar salary.

(Nota Bene: Being a professional athlete is a real job, and one of the most hazardous ones at that.)

Now, a similar strain is picking up decibels in the heartland as teachers and other public employees are being told to "take the deal or find another job."

The problem is, that isn't how unions work.

Unions bargain collectively. If the NFL Players decide to "leave it." The NFL will cease to exist. Unless, of course, fans want to watch Stephen Ross and William Ford play catch each Sunday.

If the Wisconsin state employees decide to "leave it" and find other jobs, the state of Wisconsin shuts down. Scott Walker and the state legislature can't teach every child and clean every bathroom.

The thing people have to remember—fans, media and both sides in these two arguments—is that negotiation is the key to success.

In the NFL, both sides have to be willing to sit down and work together. Neither side can impose anything on the other, because that isn't how negotiations work.

In Wisconsin, matters will be solved by working together, not against each other.

Two Vastly Different Situations, Eerie Similarities

The differences between a classroom and a NFL playing field are immense.

These two hot-button topics in the news today—one in politics, the other in sports—are eerily similar. They are similar because they are so often discussed in ways that don't accurately portray the actual issues.

Neither of these situations are about rich people versus richer people. Neither of these situations are about the entitlement of the workers verses those in America without jobs. Neither of these situations is solely about money. Neither of these situations will be solved without negotiation and compromise.

If those outside the discussion are willing to see the situations for what they're really about, perhaps those inside the discussion will be that much more willing to move past rhetoric and find a solution.

Michael Schottey is an on-call editor for the Bleacher Report College Writing Internship. He is also an NFL Featured Columnist and an NFL Draft Expert. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, he has professionally covered the Minnesota Vikings, and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the Scouting Combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.


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