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Getting the Point of Collective Bargaining | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

Getting the Point of Collective Bargaining

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker got enthusiastic this week about doing right by union members.

At least when those union members are the real referees of the National Football League.

After the fake referees—who were on the field because the NFL had locked out members of the National Football League Referee’s Association—completely botched Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks game, Walker called for the NFL to respect the unionized refs and get them back on the field.

The governor whose own fight with public employee unions has shaken Wisconsin and stirred a national debate about the rights of labor was on Twitter Tuesday, demanding a fix and ending his message with an embrace of a social media call to “Return the Real Refs.”

The real refs are returning to the field—thanks to something the governor has fought against since taking office: collective bargaining.

After the national outcry against the call that looked to just about everyone like a legitimate win from Green Bay and handed it to Seattle, the NFL was so badly burned that its representatives got serious about negotiations with the National Football Players League Referees Association.

Within hours, there were reports that the collective bargaining process was working, as key issues that had been in dispute were resolved.

That’s how collective bargaining is supposed to work, especially in emergency situations. And there was not much question that, following Monday’s game, the NFL—which was being referred to in newspaper headlines as a “farce”—was in crisis.

The point is that collective bargaining is not some gift that is handed working Americans and the unions that represent them. Collective bargaining is a useful, often essential, tool for resolving disputes and getting problems fixed.

Governor Walker got a lesson in that reality this week.

Unfortunately, he’s not yet applied that lesson in Wisconsin, where the governor continues to fight to deny full collective bargaining rights to teachers and sanitation workers—among others.

Even as he was advocating for the return of the real refs. Walker and his Republican attorney general were doing their best to overturn a judge’s ruling that Walker’s assault on the collective bargaining rights of teachers and municipal employees was unconstitutional.

What the governor needs to understand it that collective bargaining doesn’t just work for real refs and frustrated football fans. It can, and should, work for everyone.

For more on the power of labor organizing, check out Laura Flanders's coverage of a recent victory for low-wage restaurant workers.

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