Labor’s importance

So we’re all in agreement that the greatest injustice in the history of mankind took place Monday night in Seattle when replacement referees essentially handed the Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers, right?

It’s been the topic of much conversation this week and the clip will live on in infamy as the most notably blown call of all time, right alongside Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series. And it was all perfectly avoidable if the billionaire owners in the NFL and their millionaire commissioner had simply worked with the real referees instead of locking them out.

Ultimately, one could easily say that this is just a football game, and of course it is. The world went on despite the Packers’ loss. And you could also wonder, what does any of this have to do with Greenwich? But it speaks to the larger issue of how we regard organized labor.

The debacle of Monday’s game had people, not just Packers fans, demanding that the real referees be allowed back to work. Suddenly, decades after Ronald Reagan decided firing striking air traffic control workers was in the nation’s best interests and after the last years of hearing that the big bad in our life was labor unions, people saw the value in a trained, organized labor force. Even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, no friends of labor unions, were acting like Norma Rae this week, insisting this wrong had to be righted when it was their football team impacted.

For too long we have allowed labor unions to be treated as the bad guys… as if they’re the sole ones driving up costs with their outrageous demands for health care and retirement benefits. What issue has led to this referee lockout? Why it’s the NFL’s insistence that in a league that grosses billions they shouldn’t have to pay for pensions for the refs anymore, not when they can save a little more by switching them to 401(k)s. It’s the same story that we’ve seen elsewhere in business and in government as more and more we have asked labor union members to bear the brunt of changes through less attractive retirement packages and increased health care costs.

Again and again we hear it’s the fixed costs in Greenwich that drives up our spending. Those costs are set by negotiated contracts so therefore it’s the unions that are to blame for spending in town, in the state and federally. So we demand that in the Representative Town Meeting that the Labor Contracts Committee take a firmer line against town employee unions and why we’re going to hear a lot about those fixed costs as we enter into our budget process.

In his state of the town address last week before the Chamber of Commerce, First Selectman Peter Tesei took some swipes against the federal health care reform. That’s to be expected. It is, after all, a presidential election year and the mantra of Republicans is against a plan once championed by their presidential nominee, but it’s a bigger issue that goes beyond just one speech.

Instead of focusing on the naked corporate greed of the health insurance companies that drives premiums sky high, we shift the burden onto union employees and expect them to continue to make sacrifices with higher costs out of their pocket. People get upset about a football game, but what about what’s happening to our teachers, our police officers, our public works employees, our firefighters and more in this country?

Its time for everyone in this country to stop making organized labor the bad guys. We take them for granted and howl when we need them and they’re not there, even though we’ve done nothing to stop them from being driven away.

Do we stand up for organized labor only when it personally impacts us in football or do we do it as a general principle to make sure we support the people who do so much for us? That’s what we need to ask ourselves.

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