What the football settlement could mean to other trade unions

A new breed of trade unionist is assessing the tentative settlement in the football players' strike. Those in high-technology and professional fields are seeking guidance in collective bargaining under changing, more sophisticated conditions.

Confrontations similar to that in pro-football bargaining are expected to occur with increasing frequency in the future as new technologies grow in importance. More than wages and work conditions will be involved. Unions are demanding an important voice in how new technologies are used, how profits are apportioned, and how work is protected.

Currently, this is particularly important in sports and entertainment, directly affected by the development of cable and pay television and by the burgeoning of from-the-airwaves taping of programs. Unions say billions of dollars are involved.

The strike by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) involved such issues and became a test situation. Other unions in high-tech fields recognize that their power as unions and in collective bargaining could be influenced by the outcome of the football strike.

They are encouraged by the unity shown for eight weeks by professional athletes whose average salary is $80,000 to $90,000 a year, and by the players' gains in an agreement that will add $1.6 billion over five years to the players' wages and benefits.

The NFLPA remained intact under pressures from management that could have shattered it and dealt a serious blow to sports unionism and to unions in other professional, technical, and white-collar fields.

At the same time, other unions and their members were surprised by the high costs of the strike for players - and particularly for lower-salaried players without financial reserves. Based on the average salary of NFLPA unionists, every game not played represented an approximate $6,000 loss to a player. If, through makeup games, only six or seven are actually lost this season, players still will lose $35,000 to $42,000, a high price for what is at best a partial bargaining victory.

Many of the 1,500 striking players were dissatisfied with the tentative settlement which represented, union negotiators said, the ''bottom dollars'' that could be negotiated from team owners.

As it was, the new contract showed gains in contrast to current bargaining patterns. Pro football and other sports have been largely untouched by the recession due to their enormous TV revenues. Because team owners expected an estimated $300 million profit this year, the players were in a position to demand large increases while far more powerful unions in trucking, auto, and other industries were giving concessions, allowing wage freezes, or settling for moderate gains.

Organized labor supported the strike, but it was not popular among industrial workers because of the players' salaries and their 1982 demands. The NFLPA argued that the bargaining situations were entirely different and Jack Golodner, director of AFl-CIO's Professional Employees Department, agrees.

Mr. Golodner looks for a growing difference in bargaining clout for workers able to capitalize on the technical importance in the workplace and for those in blue-collar jobs in vulnerable industries.

To Golodner and others in labor's leadership, the NFLPA strike not only demonstrated the players' collective bargaining power, it disproved arguments that ''professionals won't organize and act collectively,'' Golodner says. This is important at a time when blue-collar union ranks are thinning and organized labor is looking for new areas of growth in high technology and such ''glamour'' industries as professional football.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.