Currently the sports world is suffering its fourth lockout in the past fourteen months. On four occasions since August 2011, pro sports owners have locked their publicly subsidized stadium doors, sent stadium workers home and stopped play as usual. This is not coincidence or happenstance. It’s a coordinated management offensive that has reverberations far beyond the playing field. Let’s look at the facts.
Last fall it was NFL and NBA players locked out of their jobs. This off-season, we first had the NFL referees, who make a pittance relative to the league’s revenue, watching scab refs stumble for three weeks. Now we have the ongoing lockout of National Hockey League players. NHL owners are coming off a year in which they made a record $3.3 billion in revenue. League owners have responded to this success by locking out the players, demanding massive concessions, canceling eighty-two games and squandering reservoirs of good will among fans.
I’m sure this must seem like a wild coincidence: four lockouts in fourteen months, affecting three of the four major professional sports leagues of this country. What are the odds? Actually, they’re very good. This is not merely a case of four sets of labor negotiations that have tragically broken down. This is a conscious, industry-wide strategy. A law firm called Proskauer Rose is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role. In practice, this has meant that in four sets of negotiations with four very different economic issues at play, we get the same results: lockouts and a stack of union complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s been great for owners and awful for players, fans, stadium workers and tax payers.
Proskauer Rose partner Howard Ganz represents the NBA and Major League Baseball, and fellow-partner Bob Batterman has led negotiations for the NFL and the NHL. As Sports Business Daily reported, “Batterman and Ganz provide advice on strategy, as well as on issues that can emerge during talks, such as the legality of using replacement players.”
In other words, they are the people who scuttle collective bargaining and give word when to bring on the scabs. It was the now-infamous Batterman who was lead negotiator when NHL owners locked out the players in 2005 and canceled the entire season. Ian Pulver, counsel for the NHL Players Association in 2005, said of the lawyer, “Bob Batterman is a hard-nosed, smart management attorney who leaves no stone unturned. He will do his best to attempt to execute the orders of his clients including, but not limited to, breaking unions if necessary.” When Batterman was told of Pulver’s words he said, “I would be proud to have that on my epitaph.”