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Edge of Sports

A Super Bowl of Struggle?

The NFLPA's Demaurice Smith
on opposing Indiana's "Right to Work" agenda

By Dave Zirin

January 23, 2012

http://www.edgeofsports.com/2012-01-18-684/index.html

The Super Bowl is supposed to bring attention and even
glory to its host city. But thanks to an anti-worker,
anti-union assault by Indiana's Governor Mitch Daniels
and the Republican controlled legislature, the big
game, to be held this year in Indianapolis, is bringing
a different kind of attention altogether. The NFL
Players Association joined the ranks of unions across
the state last week in opposing efforts to make Indiana
join the ranks of so-called "Right to Work" states.
"Right to Work" laws have also been called "Right to
Beg" or "Right to Starve" since they undercut wages,
benefits and the most basic workplace protections.
Coming off their own labor battle, the NFLPA released a
statement where they promised that they would not be
silent on these laws during the buildup to the Super
Bowl. I interviewed NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice
Smith about why they felt it was important to take a
stand against this legislation.

Dave Zirin: Why did the NFLPA, feel compelled to
release that statement against Indiana's proposed Right
to Work laws?

DeMaurice Smith: First and foremost, it's important
that our young men understand that they are just like
every man and woman in America who works for a living.
The minute that any sports player believes for whatever
reason that they are outside the management-labor
paradigm, I guarantee you that the minute you start
thinking that way is the day you will start to lose
ground. Our guys get their fingers broken, their backs
broken, their heads concussed, and their knees torn up
because they actually put their hands into the ground
and work for a living, and I would much rather have
them understand and appreciate and frankly embrace the
beauty of what it is to work and provide for their
family.

[On this issue] we are in lock-step with organized
labor. I'm proud to sit on the executive council of the
AFL-CIO. Why? Because we share all the same issues that
the American people share. We want decent wages. We
want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when
you get hurt. We want a decent and safe working
environment. So when you look at proposed legislation
in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something
like "Right to Work," I mean, let's just put the hammer
on the nail. It's untrue. This bill has nothing to do
with a "right to work." If folks in Indiana and that
great legislature want to pass a bill that really is
something called "Right to Work", have a constitutional
amendment that guarantees every citizen a job. That's a
"right to work". What this is instead is a right to
ensure that ordinary working citizens can't get
together as a team, can't organize, can't stand
together, and can't fight management on an even playing
field. From a sports union, our union, our men and
their families understand the power of management and
understand how much power management can wield over an
individual person. So don't call it a "right to work".
If you want to have an intelligent discussion about
what the bill is, call it what it is. Call it an anti-
organizing bill. Fine. If that's what the people want
to do in order to put a bill out there, let's cast a
vote on whether or not ordinary workers can get
together and represent themselves, and let's have a
real referendum.

DZ: What would you say to someone who says, 'Well,
people who support this type of right to work
legislation, they are just doing it to protect unions.
They don't care about the majority of workers who
aren't in unions.'?

DS: Well take a look over the last 100 years. I used to
say that we have forgotten a lot of the lessons from
organized labor over the last 100 years, but I'm now
convinced that we never learned them. Whether you're
talking about fire escapes outside of buildings or
sprinkler systems inside of buildings, fair wages for a
day's work, laws that prevent child labor, things that
led to the abolishing of sweatshops in America, let
alone management contributing to healthcare plans or a
decent pension.. All those things over the last 100
years were not gifts from management. Someone in a
corporate suite didn't decide one day that they would
bestow that wonderful right upon a working person. The
way those rights were achieved was through the
collective will of a group of workers who stood
together and said, 'This is what we believe is fair,
and we are all going to stand together and demand that
those things be provided to us. We'll do it as a
collective group. You may be able to pick off one of us
or two of us or five of us, but you will not be able to
pick off all of us.' When you look at legislation that
is designed to tear apart that ability to work as a
team.. that is not just anti-union. That is anti
working man and woman, and that's why we weighed in on
this one.

DZ: When you put out a statement like this, does it
also goes out to every player so they're aware of this
campaign?

DS: It goes out to the players, the board, and the
executive committee, and here in this case, we actually
reached out to former Indianapolis Colts, former
players who went to college in Indiana, and those
players who live in Indiana, and asked them if they'd
want to sign on. So we have a very impressive list of
players. Rex Grossman is a local player who signed on.
Jeff George, former quarterback for [among other teams]
the Indianapolis Colts, also signed on. I'm proud of
our guys who signed off on this because I do think that
they appreciate and understand that in the same way
that those things that we were talking about things
that have been changes for good for ordinary workers in
America, there isn't a player in the National Football
League who shouldn't understand that every benefit that
we have in the collective bargaining agreement is one
that was negotiated by a collective of players standing
together. Coming out of this lockout, perhaps it was
the first time some of our young men understood what
the collective bargaining agreement is all about.
[Author's note. De Smith said after the interview that
Tim Tebow was behind the NFLPA 100% during the lockout.
Given some of my own critiques of Tebow's politics, I
felt obliged to include that nugget.]

DZ: The news this week was that this bill was rammed
through committee so it is advancing through the
Indiana State House.  Has there been any talk about
what else the NFLPA might do? Any follow up to the
statement that you put out?

DS: I wrote an op-ed that has been placed in the main
Indianapolis newspaper. If the issue is still
percolating by the time of Super Bowl, I can promise
you that the players of the National Football League
and their union will be up front about what we think
about this and why.  Look, we have players who played
in Indianapolis obviously, but I made no secret coming
into this fight that the lockout, organized and
implemented by a group of owners, was not only designed
to hurt players, but all of the people who work in and
around our stadium:  the hospitality network, the
network of restaurants, bars; all of those things that
are connected and touch our business were affected by
the lockout that we frankly did not want to happen. So
there is never going to be a day where players are
going to divorce themselves from the ordinary people
who work around their sports, and we're sure as heck
not going to divorce ourselves from the fans who dig
our game.

DZ: If the legislation is still percolating, there will
be people who will be doing legal, non-violent protests
around the Super Bowl game to try to leverage the
spotlight of the Super Bowl to raise the issue for a
national audience, and I know that they're getting
various union endorsements to do so. Is that something
the NFLPA would support, the idea of a demonstration, a
legal, nonviolent demonstration outside the Super Bowl?

DS: Yeah, possibly. We've been on picket lines in
Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were
basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel
rooms that they had to clean because they were not
union workers. We've been on picket lines in Boston and
San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal
protest is something that we've done before.

We'll have to see what is going to go on when we're
there, but issues like this are incredibly important to
us. If we can be in a position just to make sure that
we raise the level of the debate to the point where it
is a fair and balanced discussion about the issues, I
think that is something that our players can help do.
Obviously, players have a very high profile, and I
think its important for them to take on issues which
are important to them and be in a position to talk
about them, raise the level of consciousness about
them.

If we do one thing by making this statement, and it is
raising the level of the debate, and to have real
people ask real questions about it, we've served our
purpose.

___________________________________________

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