NFL Lockout Would Cause 115,000 Job Losses, Union Study Says

Akito Yoshikane

Players on the Buffalo Bills raise their fingers in solidarity prior to playing the Miami Dolphins on September 12, 2010 in Orchard Park, N.Y.

As the National Football League concludes the regular season in a few weeks, the league and the player’s union aren’t the only ones who are worried about a potential lockout in 2011.

The simmering tensions over a new collective bargaining agreement has been dubbed as a feud between the millionaire athletes and billionaire owners. But a recent study conducted on behalf of the player’s union highlights the pitfalls of work stoppage on regional economies: many stadium workers may be jobless next season and those jobs may never come back.

The new report is the latest in the union’s drive to rally public support by forging a connection with working people. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) estimates that communities which host the 32 teams could lose $160 million and 115,000 jobs. Each game would cost $20 million in lost economic activity and 3,739 jobs per community. Player salaries account for 30 to 50 percent of the total figure.

Like many professional sports, the games employ stadium workers, hotel and restaurant workers across the country. But the report says a lockout will make it difficult to sustain these jobs in the future.

Given the adverse economic climate across the U.S., with unemployment projected to remain above 9% through 2011, these losses will be difficult, if not impossible, for local communities to mitigate,” the report said.

The NFL disputed the figures and league spokesman Greg Aiello questioned the study because it came from a third party. It’s unfortunate that the union has been circulating unattributed research about the impact of a potential lockout and it’s now clear there is no such credible, original research done by the union, the league, or anyone else,” he told the Associated Press.

In recent months, the NFLPA has allied with other labor groups. UNITE HERE!, which represents 25,000 concession workers at 58 major league stadiums, started a campaign to block the lockout. In September, the AFL-CIO sent a letter to the NFL offering to mediate the dispute while urging the league to consider the loss of jobs.

The NFL voted to opt out of the labor deal in 2008 and is set to expire next March. The league has cited an increase in operating fees such as building new stadiums. The league believes the player’s share of the revenue is too large and says player’s salaries increased 35 percent from 2005 to 2009. The union has asked the league to open their financial records but the NFL has refused to do so.

Keith Strong, a cook at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, commented on the lockout in a YouTube video posted by UNITE HERE!:

I got three teenage boys. They would be sad because they know I need all the income I can get to help raise them. If there’s a lockout, it won’t just impact the players. It will impact me and also a lot of my co-workers,” he said.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the player’s union, believes owners are preparing for a lockout. In preparation, the union has advised athletes to save their paychecks from the remaining games. The league rankled players recently when they said healthcare will not be available in the event of lockout. The last time the NFL had a labor dispute was when the players went on strike in 1987.

The labor dispute comes as the NBA is preparing for their own collective bargaining negotiations, and there have been reports the union plans to de-certify. In football, both sides are cognizant that a lockout will hamper the game and its public image, especially when fans provide much of the financial muscle that sustains the league. While players will be bracing for the lockout, the workers at the stadiums will have much more at stake.

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Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
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