Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Show of solidarity or unity test?
This is a defining week in the NHL labor dispute, and not just because the deadline for a collective bargaining agreement to avert a lockout is this weekend. A union meeting in New York today that's expected to draw upwards of 250 players and is being touted as a show of solidarity could also end up being an early test of player solidarity.
While their united front under veteran sports labor negotiator Donald Fehr appears to be stronger than it was under the turbulent leadership of Bob Goodenow during the last lockout eight years ago, the fact remains that the players are going to suffer more and sooner than the owners will hurt from a work stoppage, which is why photo ops with star players standing shoulder to shoulder behind Fehr is a bit disingenuous. Those players have substantial monetary reserves and/or enormous earning potential. They don't represent the majority of players who have shorter careers at lower salaries, and whose window of earning opportunity would take a more critical hit from a lockout of any significant duration. Time is money, and the owners have more of both than the players have.
The players caved in last time, and with no real leverage, there are more reasons than not to suggest they'll eventually fold again, and the sooner they acquiese, the quicker they can get back to earning more money than most of them will make in their post-hockey lives, even under the terms of an agreement favorable to the owners. With that stark reality in mind, keeping his membership from wavering during a lockout could ultimately be at least as great a challenge for Donald Fehr as negotiating a settlement.