Labor Conflict Observations: Referees VS Teachers

It’s been really interesting to watch the two parallel labor conflicts going on right now. On one side we have the National Football League’s referees. A group of gentlemen who work roughly four to six hours per weekend for five months. According to ESPN, the average NFL refereer is paid $149,000. Referees are part-time employees in the NLF’s eyes and many do have other jobs. Compare that to the teachers who are striking in Chicago. Teachers have the summers off, we are frequently reminded, so they work about 10 months a year. According to Ezra Klein and the Washington Post,  the average salary of a Chicago teacher is between $56,720 and $74,839 (depending which side you ask).

The strikes are vastly different. Teachers, yanno, teach kids and prepare them for the future. While NFL referees enforce rules and do their best to guarantee fair-play for the United States’ most popular professional sport. The demands of both groups are interesting. The referees are seeking more league contributions for their retirement benefits and a bigger piece of the growing NFL revenue pie. While the Chicago teachers are also bargaining for better retirement benefits and compensation, one of their chief concerns is the new longer school day advocated by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It effectively adds 5 3/4 to 7 1/2 to teachers’ work week (depending if they are elementary or high school). So, by not giving them more money the city is actually cutting their pay.

Beyond this simple explanation, I’m not well-versed in the demands of the referees or the teachers. I admittedly pieced this together based on relatively limited research. The point I find more interesting here is the reactions both sides have been receiving from the general public, particularly on social media. Based on my unscientific and informal observations that last week or so, the referees are receiving much more attention that the teachers. Of course, the teachers strike is limited to just Chicago while the NFL referees have a nationwide audience. But while the amount of attention differs, so too does the support.

NFL fans HATE the replacement “scab” referees. They’re messing up the game and affecting the outcomes. They’re being bullied by veteran players. Fans worry about potential injuries to star players. They worry about their bets and playoff chances being affected by poor calls. While they are not directly offering support for the the unionized NFL officials, they are indirectly through their criticism of the replacements. What we have learned is the American public supports unions if their collective bargaining gets in the way of their sports bets, fantasy teams, and fanatic sports culture. We’ll back you as long as you keep things running smoothly.

When it comes to teachers’ unions, well Americans think they need to be fired and broken up. How dare they deprive kids of their education. I’ve seen several comments suggesting there are enough unemployed teachers that they could fire most of them and hire new ones. I do understand the concern for the children. Indeed, many states prevent teachers from striking for just this reason, but at the same time there is some hypocrisy in expecting the best education for children but refusing to pay for it.

What a world we live in. We demand the best officials possible for our sports teams but refuse to negotiate and budge when it comes to teachers for our children. Chuck Rybak responded to some of my observations about this issue on Twitter:

While he is right, in this particular instance the scapegoating and hatred is actually working in advantage of the unionized referees. I bet if the teachers were in the same position no one would second-guess or question the quality of their replacements.

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