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 we 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 your talking about fire escapes outside of buildings or sprinkler systems inside of buildings, fair wages for a days 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.