SCOTT SIMON, host:
And as the NFL and its players were at the bargaining table, government workers in Wisconsin have descended on their statehouse to protest the governor's proposal to reduce benefits and change the rules of collective bargaining. The NFL players and other athletes are in unions, but how similar are they to workers like those in Wisconsin?
NPR's Mike Pesca has a comparison.
MIKE PESCA: For NFL players this kind of noise, just a day at the office.
(Soundbite of whistling) (Soundbite of cheering) (Soundbite of chanting)
PESCA: But this is the soundtrack from a different arena, the Wisconsin statehouse, where government workers have been protesting potential cuts. The NFL Players Association issued an official declaration: The NFLPA stands in solidarity with its organized labor brothers and sisters in Wisconsin. Brothers? Sisters? Or are they more like distant cousins? Place kicker Jay Feely, the union rep for the Arizona Cardinals points to one profound difference:
Mr. JAY FEELY (Place kicker, Arizona Cardinals): An apt analogy would be if the state of Wisconsin had massive budget surpluses and they were still asking the teachers to take these drastic cuts, because the NFL right now has record revenue, they had record TV ratings; theyve never been worth more. And yet they're still asking the players for $1 billion back in the salary cap because they deemed that they're not making enough money.
PESCA: So NFL teams are veritable spigots and the worst off states are sinkholes hemorrhaging money. Other differences include the salaries earned. The median NFL salary is about a million dollars; the minimum is over $300,000. And, of course, one group is comprised of public employees and the other of private workers. And the differences dont end there.
Larry Khan, a professor of labor at Cornells School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says that professional athletes arent simply well-paid laborers because they negotiate their salaries individually, unlike most union workers.
Professor LARRY KHAN (Labor Economics and Collective Bargaining, Cornell University): You have just such incredible variation in the productivity of the players and also in the interest of the players, compared to the labor force at large.
PESCA: So you might get the impression that its an entirely apples to oranges or pork barrel to pigskin comparison. But there is at least one area of significant overlap according to Jay Feely. And coming from Feely, a self-described fiscal conservative who appears on the Sean Hannity Show to discuss what he sees as Americas burgeoning economic and educational crisis, its somewhat surprising. Feely says that the thing that the Wisconsin unions are fighting hardest for is at the core of what makes his union essential.
Mr. FEELY: I dont think you can take away collective bargaining in any union and not destroy the union because collective bargaining is essential to what unions do. And I support the Wisconsin union in that respect. I think you can deal with the budget issues without trying to break the union, without trying to take away collective bargaining which will strip them of any power at all.
PESCA: The Wisconsin governors plan to strip government workers of much of their collective bargaining power has passed the assembly, but its effectively stalled by Senate Democrats who fled the state to forestall a vote. And theres another point of comparison. Some say the Senate Democrats dont like the game so theyve just taken their ball and left.
Mike Pesca, NPR News.