Block the Lockout Conference Call with Labor/Union/Issue Bloggers – November 15, 2010/1:00 p.m. EST
With NFL owners threatening a lockout unless players agree to major concessions, the NFL is headed for a labor dispute that would leave stadium seats empty and TV screens blank next fall. To help spread the word about the impending lockout as a union issue, the NFL Players Association held a labor/union/advocacy blogger conference on Monday, November 15th.
Link to the Call Audio: http://bit.ly/a1jrQ2
George Atallah – NFLPA Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs
Kevin Mawae – President, NFL Players Association
G. Atallah Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. My name is George Atallah. We’ve also got Kevin Mawae, the President of the Players Association on the call as well. I just wanted to rally everybody together just, a little bit, to provide an update on what’s going on with the CBA. But also give you some insight into where we’ll really will be looking to building even stronger partnerships with members of various unions across the country as it relates to helping us doing everything we can to prevent a lockout.
Since I’ve taken the job in March of ’09 and since I’ve been serving the players for that time, I’ve realized that one of the strengths that we’ve got and not just our relationships with fans directly but, particularly, our relationships with unions, I’ve learned a lot about how to rally people in various cities around important causes. I think we look at this CBA with the league as nothing different than any negotiation an employer has with their union.
We consider things like health and safety, employee work place issues, financial transparency, all of the things that come up in everyday conversations in businesses across America are the same conversations that we’re having on a daily basis. It’s gotten to the point now where we’re 107 days away from the expiration of the CBA and while we continue to talk with the league about the possible fair deals, and things of that nature, we still believe a lockout is coming, unfortunately. It’s gotten to the point now where we as a union, as players, and as fans, frankly, need to do everything we can to prevent it.
My comments are going to be pretty much related to the fan advocacy piece and how I think fans can rally around this issue because this is not just about football. This is about people that are impacted in the local cities and communities. Research that has been publicly available for months now show that the impact on each city is about $150 million in lost revenue if there’s a lockout. In a place like Green Bay that number is almost twice as much. It’s just something we want to avoid.
Kevin, I want to turn it to you a little bit to talk about where the players are at, and what you’ve been hearing in your conversations with players about CBA, and the direction, and the sense of urgency that you’re kind of trying to implore on fans as it relates to this issue and why they should get behind our Block the Lockout Campaign.
K. Mawae I just want to say thank you to all the ladies and gentlemen on the call and thank you for your support to the Players Association. As it relates to the players in the NFLPA, it’s been … to be serving them for the last 12 years as a player rep, as an executive committee member in the last three years, as a player president. No time in the history of this organization since I’ve been involved in it, have we ever been faced with a situation like this where we are facing down a barrel of a lockout. My past predecessors have never had to face a situation where they had to rally 1,900 players—albeit, 1,900 different egos considering the business that we’re in—and get them under one cause. I think between George, myself, our player board members, our player advocacy groups and things like that, we’ve done a great job.
Our players have grown to understand the issues of the collective bargaining agreement that go well beyond just compensation and salary: the importance of the player health, safety, and welfare, continuing benefits for retiring players and former veterans, or former players and things like that. I’ve had a privilege over the last two years to sit in on a number of our bargaining sessions. That, in and of itself, is the first for as long as I know, none of the bargaining sessions have ever included active players. This would be the first time, the first bargaining periods, where active players have actually taken a part in the bargaining session. It’s been quite an eye opener. Many other players who attest that have been in those sessions that we have never been viewed as a person or a player. We’ve always been viewed as a product. For the first time in the history of bargaining in the NFL, management has been forced to face us as human beings, as men that perform a very unique trade, if you will, to put money in their pockets. Now they are facing the fact that we’re very intelligent and very smart people who just want the best for our players.
Being in the locker rooms, I’ve had a privilege of overseeing the Tennessee Titans, their union meeting, last week and the message is always the same from them. “What’s being done to get our deal done? What are they doing in terms of healthcare benefits and working conditions?” The biggest questions are not about how much more money will we get, but, “Will we have health insurance for our families in the spring? Will we be able to have more than 5 years of post-career health insurance?” Things like that.
What I’ve found out is our players are heavily involved and they’re very educated on our issues. I think that’s been one of our key initiatives over the last four years is to get our players up-to-date and educated on everything that’s happening in collective bargaining. They’ve done that. Some of the biggest concerns are the fact that we won’t play, that we won’t have a job, that our players won’t have a job next year when it’s time to kick-off to 2011 season. Another concern is what does it do to all the personnel that make an NFL game happen? That includes the stadium workers, the police officers that provide support and security, concession workers and the community as a whole, not just a national but in every NFL city. Those are real concerns for the players.
Despite what people may say in the media that players don’t care about anything other than their paychecks and their pocketbooks, I’m here to tell you that that’s a falsie. That our players do care and they do care more than just about themselves. With the support that we’re getting and we have gotten from unions across the country, we are fairly certain that we have a large number of people that support us and our cause. Not one time has a player has ever asked for another dime in this whole deal. We just ask to be able to play football, and provide entertainment for our fans. We know that our fans drive this business. That’s why it’s important for us to have the backing from all the major unions because we believe that the unions represent the majority of our fans, the working people that come and watch our games as entertainment away from the stresses of life, if you will. So it’s important for us to get their backing.
I was in a meeting last Tuesday, or last Thursday, at the Tennessee Titan’s facility, and one of the first questions was, “Have we done anything to secure the backing of any of the major unions in the country?” I told them that we have and that we have gotten the backing from all the major unions. That’s a credit to you people and what you stand for and the fact that we could put aside financial situations and understand that we all provide unique services to help this country …. For us, it’s an entertainment service, we understand that, but none-the-less it’s a service that very few people know how to do. We want to continue to play the game as much as possible and not just for ourselves, but for our fans. We just appreciate your support and thank you for all that you can do to help us.
G. Atallah Before we transition and open it up to some questions, a couple last points to hammer home. We originally had a representer from the AFL-CIO was going to join us but his schedule conflicted out this morning. But we’ll make him available at another time. We’ll do this again, regularly.
I also want to hammer home the point that Kevin Mawae was talking about the fan impact and the business impact that this has. Players want to play football. They didn’t ask for this. They did it outside the agreement in May of 2008. They didn’t see anything wrong with the agreement in 2008. In fact, up until this date of November 15th, we have responded, comprehensively, to every single proposal that the league has given us. Even to things that we may have not necessarily agreed with we’ve offered them formal responses to everything. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that this game continues next year.
We’ve also launched www.nfl.lockout.com and the corresponding Facebook and Twitter pages to help align our union partners, our fans with our players. It’s an important way to get information out there on what’s happening with the collective bargaining agreement, but it’s also a way for us to rally around to making sure that we have a season next year in its entirety. So that’s something that I wanted to impress upon all of the callers.
With that, I think I’ll ask our moderator to open it up for questions.
Moderator First question is from the line of Doug Cunningham, Workers Independent News.
D. Cunningham We do a national radio newscast everyday focused on labor issues. I have a question about what the motive is here for the lockout threat. Owners have a game plan, obviously, with this lockout threat, but what do you think their ultimate goal is? Is it beyond money? Is it to change the power dynamic and maybe even attempt to either weaken or bust the union?
G. Atallah Kevin, you’ve been in more of the meetings than I have. I think we can probably attribute it to all of the above. I think when you talk about the initial proposal that they offered us, which was an 18% additional expense credit that they would get over the term of a 6-year deal, we’re talking about multiple billions of dollars. So clearly, I would have to put money on top of the list. Unfortunately at this point, we’re at a situation where the players and the union and people that have supported us recognize that we have to do everything that we can to prevent a lockout, short of offering up the billions of dollars and, to use your term, breaking or busting the union, short of offering up the worst case scenario. We have to stand up for what’s right and what’s fair.
Mawae, anything to add?
K. Mawae I would just echo what George has said, but in every session that I’ve been in, it’s always been, “We need 18% back,” with no other reasoning then, it’s just, “This deal is not working for us. The pendulum is swung too far in the favor of the players ….” One thing that gets lost in the media that is frustrating for the union because the NFL will never come out and say, “Yes, this is the case,” is the fact that the $9 billion business, NFL and management already get a $1 billion credit before the pie is split between the players and the owners. So to ask for another additional 18% which equates almost a billion dollars, a little over a billion dollars, now they’re asking for $2 billion in credits before we split a pie for no other reason, our profit margins aren’t what where they need to be.
It speaks to greed. It speaks to more than just—fair business. It just speaks to wanting to pad more pocketbooks. It’s that and taking power away from the players. I think that our players have gone along with—The course of my career in the last 20 years, our players became more educated, both from an educational standpoint but also in terms of understanding the business of football. The more educated our players have become the more we’ve begin to realize that the pendulum has not swung too far in favor of players. It’s probably the right where it should have been all along.
G. Atallah In fact, articulate that point in terms of a hard number. Since 2001, the player’s portion of revenues—of all revenues in the NFL—has hovered around 50%, plus or minus 2%, since 2001. In fact, over the last 3 years that number has not gone up but it’s gone down.
D. Cunningham What’s the most important thing do you think the fans should know about this lockout standoff that you have now with the owners? Because, as you mentioned, it often gets lost in the media when it gets closer to the lockout, if it does indeed happen and sometimes fans misunderstand and sometimes they’ll blame the players. What is the most important thing do you think for fans to understand about your position?
G. Atallah That this lockout is not about players being unreasonable. That this is not players initiating any kind of aggressive action. That this is about players wanting to preserve a system that has been … successful. I think that’s where I start. Again Kevin, as a player, you understand what you’ve been going through longer than I have with this.
K. Mawae Yes. I think the one thing that frustrates the players is when we have to read that this is a war between the billionaires and the millionaires. There’s a misconception in the public that every player’s making millions of dollars. The reality of it is unless you’re s top 10 marquee guy or something like that, our average salary over the course of the entire NFL of 1,900 players are just over a million dollars, but the majority of our players make far less than that. In a business where there’s more attention being spent on post-career damage to our bodies and our health than ever before and in a business where they’re asking us to give our bodies even more for another two games, which would equate about $500 million a season, but yet not have more than five years of post-career health insurance, it goes far beyond dollars.
It speaks to the players who want to play a game who have never asked for another dime in his whole deal except for to maintain what we fought so hard to keep in order to move forward, to keep the business successful. But, we also … if we were asked for anything is look at our health coverage and our benefits at the end of our careers and realize that unless that you make it to four years when the average is only three, you don’t even have post-career health insurance.
It’s issues like that that we believe that the American people understand. They can understand not having health coverage for your children. They can understand degenerative health issues as you get older. Hopefully they can understand that because we provide a service to the owners, our bodies are broken down a lot faster than most people realize. Those are issues that very seldom get played out in the media.
Moderator Our next question is from the line of Leigh Levin, Independent Blogger.
L. Levin I think you’ve done most of this but I was going to ask you to specify the big issues that are stumbling points in terms of working conditions besides the health and safety stuff, which you already talked about.
G. Atallah Working conditions to us are directly related to the dangers of our job. You have a league where the big conversations these days surround the big hits, but the more and more research that’s available out there shows that it’s actually the continuous repetitive hits that cause damage overtime. I mean, that’s part of the research that we’re seeing. How do you get to a world where you can understand an 18 game season and still reduce the impact or reduce the amount of opportunities for those kinds of hits? For working conditions that’s just one specific element of it.
But to your point, people look at the shield and they look at the amount of money that this business generates and some individuals are willing to suspend logical and fair considerations because of the money that’s involved and because it’s football. That’s not where we take this. The nexus of our union and the history of our union came from fighting for things like clean socks and jocks. They had to fight for free agency. We had to fight for former player benefits. I’m not sure that many people understand the fact that the pension plans of players are not paid for out of the owner’s share of revenue. They are paid for out of the player’s share of revenue.
So, that’s kind of where we try to take the conversation, is just because it’s the NFL and it’s the—I don’t know how you want to classify— entertainment business, doesn’t mean that we can ignore or suspend basic principals of employee/employer relationship. That goes to workers’ comp by the way.
Kevin, I think, maybe you want to touch on the workers’ comp issue and how flabbergasted we are that there’s almost 300 open cases of workers’ compensation.
K. Mawae Just to speak on workers’ comp issue, there’s a misconception that player’s contracts are guaranteed. Unless it’s negotiated in our contracts, there’s nothing guaranteed in an NFL player’s contract. If I sign a 4-year deal for $1 million, if I get cut after year one, I’ll never see the 100% of $1 million. A lot of times, because of our health coverage, we only have five years of post-career health coverage, players that do the best and get those five years, a lot of times can’t even afford to cover themselves for medical insurance beyond the five years of post-career health insurance because everything is pre-existing. You have pre-existing knee condition, pre-existing elbow, head, neck, whatever you want, whatever injury you may have sustained as a player, you’re health insurance won’t cover it because everything is considered pre-existing. If you did go buy health insurance, than the cost would be astronomical because of those conditions.
One of the ways we have found to protect ourselves is the rights and the workers’ comp, workers’ compensation, in the various states the NFL plays in. A player has the right to file his workers’ comp claims, his injuries under workers’ comp, and go through a normal process that anybody else would to get a settlement out of workers’ comp. Workers’ comp is the only way a player can have lifetime medical and the NFL is fighting us against that. We have cases right now that are being litigated against our players so that they can’t file in friendly states where they might be able to get a claim for their injuries that they’ve sustained while playing in the NFL.
I, myself, have filed a workers’ comp in the state of New York and because of the laws there when I played there for 8 years, they were favorable to me. There are a couple of cases now that are in the courts that are trying to prevent our players from filing workers’ comp. Their right under our collective bargaining agreement to file workers’ comp. Not just unnamed players, we have the Hall of Fame players whose team’s that they gave service to for 10, 15, 19 years that the teams are suing them and their right to file for those claims.
It’s a shame because it’s something that we fought for. It’s the only way that many of us will ever get life time benefits from injuries sustained while playing and here we are fighting against the owners and the management to actually get those claims. Like George said, there’s over 300 workers’ comp claims that are out there that are unfulfilled. These are claims that players deserve, that they’ve earned the right to go file those claims and they can’t and they’re being fought tooth and nail by the NFL to do it.
L. Levin Can you be more specific about that? Are people filing worker’s comp and then the owners are saying you’re not entitled?
K. Mawae Well, for instance, every state workers’ comp laws are completely different. Some of them are favorable. There’s statute of limitations on when you need to file. Everything from seven years after your career is over with to one year from the last reported injury or treatment of an injury. There are some states that are favorable to any professional athlete that may have played in their state.
An example is California, just because you played in Tennessee doesn’t mean you can’t file in California. If you played in California and sustained an injury while playing in California then that gives you the ability to file in claims in the State of California. I know for a fact, that there the Tennessee Titans are fighting several of their former players from filing a claim in the State of California because the Titans team would be liable to pay those claims. In the State of Louisiana, Tom Benson of New Orleans Saints have tried to pass legislation to limit workers’ comp for NFL players in the State of Louisiana and prevent them from being able to file workers’ comp in other states if they have indeed played for the Saints. Those are just two very broad instances of how management and owners are trying to fight the workers’ comp claims for NFL players.
Moderator Our next question is from Nick Bunker, Center for American Progress.
N. Bunker I was wondering in the context of the collective bargaining agreement, has there been any progress on financial transparency outside of the Packers because they’re a public corporation. Is there any kind of indication the owners will share revenues or anything of that sort?
G. Atallah The easiest question all day, no. Unfortunately no. Unfortunately, we still live in the context of, “This deal is not that great. We need $1 billion back but we can’t tell you why.” That’s really the short end of the conversation and we go back to this being— This is not a football negotiation. This is a business negotiation, and to make a business transaction you need relative information. You can’t tell players, like they’ve told us in the past for example, “We need credit to build stadiums,” and not tell us how much the stadium’s going to be worth. If it’s okay for us to give you $800 million for the new … stadium, which is what the figure is, we would like to know what that stadium’s going to cost, obviously. What are the projected revenues? What are the basic facts and figures associated with that business transaction?
When it comes to this broader CBA, we’ve been hard pressed to find financial transparency other than the Packers financials, which is interesting to me because it’s a non-profit organization that turned to profit. I mean, the Green Bay Packers are a non-profit, owned by the city that turned to profit. I don’t really know how else to phrase that. The only public information that we’ve got on the financials are what’s in Forbes where average team profits range from the Redskins, which are close to $300 million, to teams that have made $20 million and $30 million in a profit.
That’s what’s out there. We’ve asked their lead negotiator, Bob Batterman, who has been traditionally known to work vigilantly on management negotiations against unions, said publicly, “That’s none of your business.” So, unfortunately we haven’t made much traction on the financial transparency piece.
Moderator Our next question is from the line of Colin Delany, epolitics.com.
C. Delany I came in a little late so you all may have talked about this early on but who seems to be the main drivers among the owners for the kind of changes that they’re pushing?
G. Atallah Describe the current changes? Do you mean in general?
C. Delany Yes. Who’s really pushing, on the owner’s side, to try to get you all to make concessions?
G. Atallah Obviously, there are a group of seven owners on the management committee who are responsible for taking the lead for CBA negotiations and represent the management side at the bargaining table. By default, I’d have to point towards those seven. I’ll reserve my answer to that because I don’t particularly— I’d put it on all 32.
K. Mawae Yes, I think it would be pure speculation to that it’s just one owner or these three owners are the ones … driving force. At the end of the day, whoever those owners or that owner may be, the message is coming through their management council and their attorneys. From the view of the players, they’re all the same. We’re not going to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys because they’re all on the same team. I don’t think there’s a whole lot more to say about that.
G. Atallah I just want to thank everybody again for participating. Again, we’re getting to the point now where the sense of urgency is elevated. We’ve got a great resource for fans that not only can get the right information about what’s happening in nfllockout.com but really participate in the process. I mean, one of the nice things that we’ve been able to do is give fans a voice. I mean, ultimately “fans” are not just passive people that just watch the games on Sundays, Monday nights, and Thursday nights now. They’re consumers. They are the ones that are consumers in this business and I really think that they have a say and they can be advocates for fairness and transparency. Thanks everybody for your participation today.
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