New Orleans After days of reading, hearing, and watching Jerry Jones, the big whoop and owner of the Dallas Cowboys, threaten his players with benching and job jeopardy, Local 100 United Labor Unions filed charges with Region 16 of the National Labor Relations Board in Fort Worth, Texas charging Jones and the NFL Cowboys with violations of the National Labor Relations Act which protects the concerted or collective actions of all private sector workers taking action with or without a union, under or outside of a collective bargaining agreement, in seeking to protect their working conditions, wages, and hours. Our charge was simple. An employer is forbidden by the Act from threatening, coercing, and intimidating workers in their rights to act together, and that is precisely what Jones was doing with public impunity in all available media outlets.
Within hours we were talking to sports reporters for ESPN, various CBS affiliates, and of course the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. We were in the Sporting News. The story was bigger than Dallas and Texas. With only 10.7% of US workers now in unions, a lot of these conversations were 101-courses in basic American labor law that protects workers on the job, whether they exercise these rights or not. These are also pretty clearly the kind of basic lectures that NFL owners and their staff need to attend as well, before theses elderlies get a strain trying to thump their chests and reprise what they remember as schoolyard bullies from their youth.
Jones’ remarks are an effort to unilaterally change the working conditions of his players. The collective bargaining agreement also forbids rule changes once training camps end. The NFL rules indicate that players “should” stand, not that they “shall” stand. As their legion of lawyers can tell them, if they will listen, that’s permissive, not mandatory language. Furthermore, the NFL has absorbed these protests for over a year once begun by Colin Kapernick with the 49ers. No one has been disciplined, though Kapernick seems to be blackballed. The Commissioner has publicly indicated that he understands the protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Numerous owners and almost all coaches have supported their players. Why are the owners now attacking the players, and buckling to President Trump’s tweets?
Don’t for a minute believe that this isn’t racial on Trump’s part and another dog whistle to his hater-base. 70% of the NFL rosters are African-American. There’s a reason he’s hosting almost all-white hockey teams at the White House, while NBA and NFL professionals with a growing racial sensitivity are standing up to Trump.
Don’t for a minute believe this is about the symbols like the national anthem and the flag. The right to associate, speak, and protest injustice are fundamental cornerstones of our Constitution and the core of what it means to be American and fight for freedom. The anthem is just a song and the flag is a peace of cloth. These are significant symbols of our country, but there should be no confusion. They have no meaning if they are somehow elevated over our basic and fundamental freedoms. When the owners talk about substituting the players’ rights for contributions to some nonprofits, their lack of understanding and respect for our country is just embarrassing to contemplate since they seem to equate everything with a penny on the dollar.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 translates these freedoms to the workplace. The players’ workplace is the football field. The owners need to respect the players, respect the law, and respect what America means, and back the heck off.