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When to Boycott Scab Labor and When Not to Boycott Scab Labor

[ 87 ] August 28, 2012 |

As some of you probably know, the NFL has refused to sign a new contract with the referees union and has pulled together crews of scab referee labor. They are terrible. The players are outraged, even in meaningless preseason games. The referees are incompetent amateurs way above their heads. It’s a joke, one that I think the NFL can only pull during the preseason. The calls have been so egregiously terrible that no one can take them seriously.

In the various labor communities in which I play a small role, there’s been talk that everyone should refuse to watch the NFL so that we don’t support scab labor.

While one can argue this might be a good tactic in other scenarios, I disagree here.*

The best way to get the refs a new contract is for the sporting world to watch and savage the incompetence. More so than any other professional sport, the real power behind the NFL is the fans. That’s especially true when it comes to issues like this–where fans can see the effect on their team’s chances to make the playoffs. The second a terrible call goes against a team and that call costs a team the game, you are going to have millions of people collectively infuriated with the NFL, putting enormous pressure on the league to give the referees a fair contract and bring sanity back to the league.

I think everyone knows this. The referees know they hold a lot of cards here (the fact that most of them are wealthy from other sources also helps). The NFL knows this too. Roger Goodell can give lip service to the scabs all he wants to, but he knows the consequences to him personally if the NFL becomes a laughing stock.

In fact, I find it highly unlikely that the replacement referees call even 1 regular season game. The first game this season is on Wednesday, September 5. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that an agreement is hashed out on the 3rd or 4th.

And if it isn’t, then the strategy is obvious–chronicle every bad call the refs make. The players and coaches will be screaming about it, the fan base will be screaming about it, and it will be THE STORY of the NFL in the early part of the season. That’s something the league can’t handle.

*In fact, I feel the boycott of scab labor is often a reflex used without a lot of analysis. Does it work? What is the best way to handle these issues? I don’t think these are questions even smart labor think about enough. That probably includes me. It probably is a good method frequently. But is it always?


Comments (87)

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  1. Vance Maverick says:

    dollars to doughnuts

    What’s the going rate in Providence? (And do they spell them with the “ugh” out there?)

    This strike is obviously special in many ways — maybe principally in that it demonstrates the skill of the workers who are striking. In a strike of sanitation workers, for example, the replacements may be just as good, meaning the striking workers are making their case on grounds of rights rather than skill.

  2. Ignorant Texan says:

    While you may be right about an agreement, I don’t think your average NFL fan gives a shit about situation. They didn’t when the owners locked out the players(most of them sided with the owners against the “greedy” players, after all), so why would they when the referees have a separate source of income? Now, if you’re talking about people who gamble on NFL games…

  3. In a way, this is sort of the best thing that could happen to the regular referees. The problem isn’t the “bad calls,” per se, even the regular officials are regularly guilty of that, the problem is that the scabs can’t even accurately apply the rules of the game consistently, and certainly can’t do so in a timely manner. As such, they’re blowing rule enforcement that 99% of committed fans, for lack of a better word, could get right (they even gave possession of the ball to the wrong fucking team during a Cowboys-Chargers game!), and causing really long delays while they try to figure out where to spot the ball and such. Sports fans are never going to like the officials, but I get the sense that the performance of the scabs has given a lot of NFL fans a new appreciation for the little things the pros do well that you don’t even think about until someone else is out there fucking it up.

  4. Steve says:

    Ugh, does this mean I have to start watching NFL games?

  5. KadeKo says:

    Are the MLB and NBA officials full-time, and the NFLers not?

    I know “NFL official” was a part-time job for a long time, dating back to when players trained in the off-season by delivering ice or building housing.

    • Richard says:

      Correct. NFL refs only work on weekends and therefore have regular jobs. My high school principal was a NFL ref

      • KadeKo says:

        Geez, still? I don’t think that’s good for the game. I’m open to persuasion, though.

        • Richard says:

          Its only one game a week for 18 weeks (excluding playoffs where the refs are selected based on merit). Not the most demanding work schedule. NFL ref salaries go from $28k to $70k a year depending on experience (plus travel expenses).

        • mpowell says:

          One of the weird things about the labor dispute is that the NFL wants 7 full time refs and the refs don’t like it. Maybe they’re not offering enough of a pay boost, but it seems odd for that to be a major sticking point.

          • Richard says:

            I thought that weird as well

          • Chuchundra says:

            It’s not weird at all.

            The NFL clearly wants to transition to a full-time, or mostly full-time, officiating staff. The owners’ proposals that the officials most object to are clearly meant to be a first step on that road.

            The refs want to hang on their cushy, part-time jobs and so object to that.

            • Richard says:

              OK. As either a football fan or a supporter of organized labor, is moving to a full time officiating staff a bad thing?

            • Sherm says:

              The NFL is also looking to take away their pensions, and not to pay them for full-time work at the same rate which they make now for part-time work.

              I agree that it should be a full-time job, but the transition is difficult for the current part-timers, and the NFL is not willing to pay them enough to make it worth their time.

      • Richard says:

        And there is a good trial attorney in LA who’s also a NFL ref. Have run into him in court a few times (easy to spot because he wears a couple Super Bowl rings on his fingers)

    • Katya says:

      Correct. A relative of mine was an NFL ref until he retired two years ago, and a minister in the off-season.

  6. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    Here’s a contrarian thought: You aren’t going to boycott the scabs because you are a serious football fan? Your interest in the sport overrides your normal pro-union advocacy?

    • KadeKo says:

      When the idea of “boycotting” is brought up, there are degrees:

      Would I watch a Super Bowl on free TV with replacement officials? I’d try it.

      Would I spend my money to attend one in person, with replacement officials? Maybe, maybe not.

      Would I wager my money on a Super Bowl with replacement officials? Not on my life.

      They say that betting on football is a big part of its popularity. And the best thing for both gamblers and gambling houses is a clean, well-officiated game that’s beyond suspicion.

      (*I’ve never been to a Super Bowl and I don’t gamble on sports besides the random very-low-stakes office pool.)

    • Malaclypse says:

      I’ve been boycotting the NFL since before boycotting the NFL was cool.

    • greylocks says:

      I like to take ineffectual symbolic stands that no one will notice. It makes me feel morally superior to those who don’t take ineffectual symbolic stands.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I wouldn’t overrate my interest in the NFL, which is definitely something I can live without. It’s the broader question of whether these tactics actually make sense or is it just proving a point to ourselves to make ourselves feel good.

  7. rea says:

    It would be ironic indeed if the incompetence of replacement referees draws national outrage–but the incompetence of replacement air traffic controllers was universally ignored . . .

  8. Richard says:

    I think there is likely to be a settlement before the first game but don’t expect the world to end (or the fans or owners to revot) if replacement refs work a regular season game. Remembering back to the MLB umpire strike, the league fired the striking refs, kept the refs who didn’t go on strike, hired replacements for the ones who were fired and the fans never noticed the difference. Likely the same thing will happen here.

    • Colin says:

      Can’t agree. Sure, there’s subjectivity in both, but it just seems fans in baseball, while angry about varying strike zones, aren’t as involved as football fans about holding/pass interference/whatever calls. Perhaps more importantly, the replacement refs are messing up things like who gets the ball, etc., calls that never happen in baseball [it’s clear who is pitching and who is hitting]. The ways refs are involved in football is simultaneously more obvious and more directly shapes the game than in baseball, and fans will likely notice more here than they did in baseball (and I’m not sure devoted fans didn’t notice the replacement refs, either).

      • Richard says:

        Maybe. I’m not enough of a dedicated pro football fan to know. In baseball, from the fan’s perspective, the fans approved the change. It allowed the league to get rid of some really terrible, arrogant umps and the replacements were guys who had worked the minor leagues for years and were very good.

        • mpowell says:

          There is no minor league for football. College refs just won’t cut it. The NFL game is too different. And the simple reality is that reffing a football game is much much harder than being a baseball umpire. And your calls have a far greater impact on the outcome in your average game.

          Balls and strikes are a pretty big deal in the MLB, but you can get pretty good at that with practice at the minor league level.

          • Richard says:

            Good points all. I haven’t watched a single preseason football game (and only watch a handful of games until the playoffs start) so really dont have an educated opinion about the ability of the replacement refs to call an adequate game.

        • wengler says:

          I was about to bring this up as the only time I supported the owners in a labor strike. They were striking over some pretty stupid things, and it got rid of the king of awful umps, Ken Kaiser.

          But then again, I’m in favor of robot umps and always have been.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      One complication of the MLB/umpire dispute is that it was extremely rare case where I thought management was right. Had umpires been striking for wages, benefits or reasonable working conditions I would have been with them. Instead, they were striking for their right to call whatever rules they chose at their whim no matter what the rule book said.

      • Richard says:

        Plus they had the stupidest union leadership of all time. They offered their resigantions and when the league accepted them, they said “whoops, we rescind the resignations”.

        But they were also striking for a huge wage increase as well as the right to not adhere to the rules.

        • Jim Lynch says:

          Ritchie Phillips was his name, and he led the uppity umps off a cliff by submitting their resignations to MLB, resignations which were readily accepted. I first heard about it on a radio station that broadcast a sports report every 15 minutes. I did not believe the first report, being convinced that I had simply misunderstood it. I remember being stunned 15 minutes later when I the report was repeated. It was hard to believe any Union leadership/membership could be so damn stupid/arrogant. It still is.

  9. howard says:

    so, why isn’t the player’s union boycotting the 4th exhibition game in solidarity with the refs?

    (frankly given that the 4th game is only of importance for players on the bubble, you’d think there’d be a lotta support for that even on self-interested grounds!)

  10. JazzBumpa says:

    I have payed zero attention to the utterly meaningless preseason.

    I’m shocked, but not surprised, that the officiating could get even worse.

    Never thought I could feel nostalgia for Phil Luckett.

    Life is full of surprises.


  11. Chuchundra says:

    I was pretty pro-player during the lockout and I’m fairly pro-labor generally, but I can’t support the refs here.

    From what I’ve read, or at least reading between the lines, the league wants to start moving toward having full time refs instead of the part-timers we have now. They want to hire eight full time guys now and I assume they’ll want to hire more full timers if they work out.

    In addition, they want to add more crews to give them flexibility in scheduling and take some of the load off the current guys who almost all have regular, full-time jobs. The refs feel that this will give the league more leeway to not use or get rid of guys who are under performing.

    To my mind, both of these changes will be good for the game and the refs are opposing them because they want to protect the good thing they have going now.

    What makes it extra funny is that a lot of the part-time refs are pretty well off, owning their own companies and so forth. It’s pretty funny to hear these rich, one percenters spout off about union solidarity and scabs when I doubt they’d be all that sympathetic if their employees joined a union.

    • Um…not exactly. The refs want to transition the refs to being full-time employees, and they want to add more crews, but both of these changes as proposed equate to lower incomes for the current referees. Why should they passively acquiesce to pay cuts when the NFL is making money like they have their own personal mint?

      • Chuchundra says:

        The current officials certainly do not want to transition to full time. Almost all of them have good, full time jobs that they would have to give up if their officiating positions became full time gigs and they wanted to stay on.

        And yeah, if I were an NFL official, I would be opposed to the measures proposed by the NFL ownership. Why would anyone give up such a cushy sinecure without fighting tooth and nail to keep it?

        That doesn’t mean that as a fan of the game I should have any sympathy for these guys.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Also, what the hell would NFL officials do 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year anyway? How would working “full time” make them better?

        • Chuchundra says:

          I don’t know. What do NFL players do outside of the four hours they’re actually on the field each week? Officials could do a lot of the same things. Attend meetings. Review game film. Discuss difficult/marginal/bad calls. Participate in practices with teams. All sorts of things.

          And this would make them better, in my opinion, because during the football season they would be focused on their job as an NFL official, not trying to cram in their preparations and training around the demands of their day job.

    • witless chum says:

      Refs may be comfortably middle class or above, but they aren’t Jerry Jones.

      The players oughta pull something in the fourth preseason game. Sit down and not move for a five minutes of game time or something not technically a sympathy strike.

    • Sherm says:

      Worth reading. And lets not forget that this is a lock-out, and not a strike.

  12. RhZ says:

    Sorry I am going to be contrarian here.

    The fans will complain regardless. The officiating has always been awful anyway. Always.

    The owners own the product, and the fans will never go away, never. Nor will the bettors. So there is no appreciable loss to worry about when considering taking a hard line against the officials.

    The replacements will be there in week one, and maybe for a long time after. Heck, they could soon be the real ones…

  13. angry bitter drunk says:

    Dave Zirin is spot on on this. The owners are just greedy fucks — even if they basically won’t even profit from their greedy fuckiness here:

    No amount of bitching by fans or media will matter a damn to the owners…

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