Monday, September 3, 2012

Labour vs. Labor

Greetings Friends,

Labour/Labor Day is here, and instead of bemoaning the 8.3 percent American jobless rate, I want to talk about another topic that is uniquely Canadian: hockey.

Why am I choosing to discuss hockey on a day meant to honour hardworking Americans and Canadians? Well, for those of you who are unaware, the NHL's collective bargaining agreement with its players is set to expire on September 15. Once again, and for the third time in Gary Bettman's tenure as commissioner of the sport, the NHL is poised to lock out its players because of a labour dispute.

I have always maintained the stance that professional athletes should not be allowed to unionize, but that idea is about as well-received as asking Donald Trump to get a decent haircut. Instead, every few years the owners and players like to play a game of "chicken" with their sport, while the fans wait to see who flinches first. This might not be big news in the States right now, what with the Democratic National Convention set to begin this week, and millions of Americans waiting to see how President Obama will respond to Clint Eastwood's "empty chair" speech at last week's Republican National Convention. Americans have many more pressing matters to attend to than wondering if a metaphorical padlock will once again be slapped on the second-rate sport of hockey. Granted, millions breathed a collective sigh of relief last year when the NFL avoided that scenario, and still more gleefully tuned in when the NBA started its season late after settling its labour dispute. But, the NHL subscribes to the "go big or go home" way of doing things, so chances are, hockey fans are looking at yet another lost season.

The first time the NHL tossed an entire season (2004-05), I had a vested interest in the outcome: I was a season ticket-holder of the New York Islanders. Now, I hold no such status other than that of a somewhat interested bystander. I amuse myself by reading impassioned pleas from Canadian sports writers to team owners to make "smart business decisions," rather than "putting hockey teams in places where 12-year-olds knew they couldn't survive," and tweets from fans attempting to convince themselves that they won't have a Pavlovian response to the first Hockey Night in Canada game that airs post-lockout. Come on people, at least fess up to caring. We can't help it; we're sports fans. As I've said previously, being a sports fan is an affliction there is no cure for.

As the deadline looms, and things continue to look bleak, I can't help but think about the people who will really get hurt by all this labour strife: the individuals who work for the teams and the arenas in which they play. That list includes vendors, ushers, maintenance people, office staff, and others who rely on much smaller salaries than the players and owners enjoy to support their families and live their lives. These people are the ones who really get lost in the shuffle; the ones who have to worry about finding alternate employment if the worst case scenario materializes. The players will be fine. The owners, better than fine. It's the labourers no one ever hears about that suffer the most. Maybe Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman should think about those people at their next meeting. Chances are, they won't.

So on this Labour Day, think about those who are struggling, and those whose hearts are heavy with the worry of imminent struggle. The wealthy enjoy the privilege of success from the sweat of others. Sadly, professional athletes are no different.