NFL ref lockout echoes union validity across professions

Since the NFL officials’ union went on strike at the start of the 2012 season, there has been a series of game mishaps and controversial calls resulting in widespread support for the defiant referees.

Besides disrupting NFL play, the officials’ strike serves two functions on a larger scale: It validates professionals’ rights to unionize and it highlights the stigma that is typically – although not in this case – associated with union strikes.

Plainly, the first three weeks of the NFL season could not have gone better for the officials’ union. The replacement referees have been inadequate at best, a fiasco at worst. The start of the 2012 season has proven that the original referees are necessary for a well-functioning league.

The officials, just like any collection of professional workers, provide necessary labor for the smooth functioning of their institution – in this case, the NFL. Therefore, they enjoy the freedom to unionize, ensuring their rights as workers are protected. That the league is in disarray without the officials proves their necessity; clearly, they are not so easily replaced.

That is not to encourage the union or to endorse it, but simply to say that the first three weeks of the season have played out in its favor. Without the union, the officials would not have been able to strike, thus not proving their worth to the league and potentially leaving them at a disadvantage even greater than the $3.2 million they are currently demanding.

This is true of all unions; if any group of workers provides compelling labor that an alternate group cannot provide, they are validated in their right to unionize.

When union workers strike, however, it is often viewed as a power play rather than an assertion of rights, such as the recent Chicago teachers’ union strike. While the majority of those polled supported the strike, it was a tepid 55 percent.

Why were the teachers barely able to break 50 percent approval? Though replacements were not brought in to teach, it’s fair to say it would have been just as detrimental to students as it has been to NFL players, coaches and fans alike.

The individuals on strike are part of a union for a reason – they provide an all-important service as professionals in their field. While some may not always agree on the value of said professionals’ work, the evidence lies with the failure of replacement referees – such alternatives can have disastrous results.

The NFL officials’ strike has served its purpose: to demonstrate to the league the essential, fundamental labor they provide. It is up to other unions to prove the same.