CLASS CONSCIOUS NFL players’ fight points up employer collusion against all workers

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COLIN KAEPERNICK FINALLY MADE THE STARTING LINEUP. But not with the NFL. The blackballed quarterback was picked by Amnesty International to receive it’s highest honour, the 2018 Ambassador of Conscience Award. The award “celebrates individuals and groups who speak out for justice.”

That’s exactly what Kaepernick wanted to do when he began a very public protest against police violence in 2016, by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. His singular action sparked an intense and broad public debate about free speech, patriotism and racial discrimination.

Past winners of the award include former South Africa president Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, the education activist from Pakistan who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, and rock group U2.

“When high-profile people choose to take a stand for human rights, it emboldens others,” says Augusta Quiney, Amnesty International’s director of Art for Amnesty. “For us, this is an opportunity to be on the right side of history.”

‘The people’s unbroken love for themselves’
Colin Kaepernick’s fundamental belief in the power of love over hate and a collective consciousness of that power as the key to resistance against, and victory over injustice, rings out loud and clear in these excerpts from his acceptance speech.

"I have realized that our love—that sometimes manifests as Black-rage—is a beautiful form of defiance against a system that seeks to suppress our humanity—a system that wants us to hate ourselves.  . . .

People sometimes forget that love is at the root of our resistance.  . . . And it is the people’s unbroken love for themselves that motivates me, even when faced with the dehumanizing norms of a system that can lead to the loss of one’s life over simply being Black.  . . .

I remind you that love is at the root of our resistance.  . . .

Our love is not an individualized love—it is a collective love. A collective love that is constantly combating collective forms of racialized hate  . . . This is why we have to protest. This is why we are so passionate. We protest because we love ourselves, and our people. . . .

When Malcolm X said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” I took that to heart.  . . .

Seeking the truth, finding the truth, telling the truth and living the truth has been, and always will be what guides my actions. For as long as I have a beating heart, I will continue on this path, working on behalf of the people.

Again…Love is at the root of our resistance."

The beat goes on
Kaepernick is using his union contract to fight for fair treatment from the 32 NFL team owners. He filed a collusion suit against the NFL in October 2017.

According to the league’s labor agreement, no team can do anything direct, or indirect, “to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making” in negotiations with any player.

The collective bargaining agreement also directs that all cases of collusion are heard by an independent arbitrator—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Evidence gathering included a search of computers and cellphones of league and team officials to find references to Kaepernick. The two sides have exchanged more that 100,000 emails and documents and statements have been taken from team owners, coaches and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

But proving collusion will be difficult, without a “smoking gun”—like an email, phone conversation or other document that explicitly sets out actions against Kaepernick by name. Teams have many legitimate reasons for signing one quarterback over another, including his age, his salary, his temperament, how he fits into an offensive system and other available quarterbacks.

But baseball players filed a series of successful cases against Major League Baseball in the 1980s.

Second collusion grievance filed
Eric Reid filed his own collusion grievance against the NFL in May 2018. The 26-year-old Reid is a close friend of Kaepernick’s. He went to Amsterdam to introduce Kaepernick at the Amnesty International award ceremony.

Reid spent the past five seasons playing starting safety for the San Francisco 49ers, going to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Reid was one of the first to follow Kaepernick’s lead in taking a knee during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” ceremony before games.

He became an unrestricted free agent when the new league year began in March.

Since he has been without a contract, Reid has gotten little interest throughout the league. He had a meeting with the Bengals in April, which reportedly took a turn for the worse when the team asked him about his plans for the anthem. Kaepernick’s lawyer is also representing Reid.

Employers ‘collude’ against all workers
Maybe we are all like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. Maybe the anticompetitive forces the two football players claim to be up against are rigging the entire labour market and making it harder for all workers to earn a decent wage through work. Many economists, policymakers, and advocates think that might be the case.

High-profile cases have alleged antitrust violations harming high-tech employees, animators, and nurses.

In 2016, President Obama’s Department of Justice issued guidelines stating that the Department would criminally prosecute employers that engaged in concerted conduct, including by agreeing not to hire each other’s employees.

It’s very unlikely that the NFL and its owners will be prosecuted criminally for refusing to hire Kaepernick. But, if it turns out they did collude, they could be in big trouble.

Indeed, other franchises have been under heat for collusive employer conduct among their various competing parts. According to a recent New York Times article, fast-food franchises have been hit by antitrust suits for clauses in their franchise agreements that prohibit franchisees from poaching employees from one another.

Through these provisions, the restaurant chains prevent workers from moving between restaurants in search of better working conditions. The agreements might help to explain why fast-food restaurants have enjoyed booming financial success, while fast-food wages have stagnated.

There’s still lots more to learn about what’s happened to Colin Kaepernick, and there’s lots and lots more to learn about the pervasiveness of anticompetitive practices in the labor market and how they might be suppressing wages.

Collusive behavior by employers along with other constraints on labor market competition may help explain the mystery of why in a time of low unemployment, workers aren’t seeing the increase in wages that they’ve been waiting for since the end of the Great Recession.

The age-old fight for a free and competitive labor market is as critical as it’s ever been. That fight is important to Kaepernick, and it’s important to millions of other workers across our continent.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  
Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.