Players vs. owners: Who came out on top in major labor disputes?
Well, that certainly was fun.
After more than four months, the longest work stoppage in National Football League history ended Monday when the players unanimously accepted a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement approved earlier by the NFL owners. Pro football is back, and only one exhibition game was lost, giving football fans some semblance of normalcy once the demolition derby-like free agent signing period is complete.
As in most professional sports labor disagreements, there is usually a winner and a loser when the dust clears. Here is a player vs. owner labor scorecard in the four major professional sports, with the NBA's current lockout still pending a resolution.
Future generations of football fans might wonder what all this fuss was about. The league is a $9 billion business, the most profitable sports enterprise in U.S. history, yet the owners who triggered the lockout on March 11 thought they weren't getting their fair share of the massive revenues. There were no spring minicamps and summer training camps were delayed but, in the end, all the NFL lost was the Hall of Fame exhibition game in Canton, Ohio.
Unlike in 1987, where there was enough bitterness at the end of that work stoppage to fill a stadium, the 10-year deal of 2011 seemed to satisfy players and owners alike. Players took turns applauding the contributions of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith embraced for photographers.
But it's difficult to view the players as losers. There is unrestricted free agency after four seasons, no more two-a-day workouts in pads and fewer OTAs (organized team activities) in the offseason. Smith proved a worthy representative for the players' needs in his first major bargaining session.
The players decertified as the National Football League Players Association and then reorganized as a professional organization in 1989. The purpose: to pursue antitrust litigation that would lead to free agency. Led by Jets running back Freeman McNeil, the players brought a new antitrust case against the NFL. They argued that the lack of legitimate free agency was an unlawful restraint of trade.
A jury trial went in favor of the players. A few years later the threat of a class-action suit brought by Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Reggie White returned the parties to the negotiating table. Finally, NFL owners gave the players free agency in return for a salary cap.
Five years after the NFL's first prolonged walkout, the owners and players were back at it. Players demanded free agency, and a strike was called after the Week 2 games. This time the owners were not going to wait for a settlement as they had in 1982. After a week with no games, they authorized the signing of replacement players and started play again. Even though the quality of football was far from big league, the networks televised all replacement games.
The NFLPA was caught off guard, having failed to set up a strike fund to replenish lost wages. Nearly 90 players crossed the picket line, including big-name stars Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, Randy White and Steve Largent. After three weeks of replacement games, all the players returned to work.
But the second strike of the decade tore another pound of flesh out of Commissioner Pete Rozelle who would leave his job in 1989 after nearly three decades of visionary leadership.
Nearly half the season was lost as the players sought 55 percent of the league's gross revenues to make up for no free agency. There were no games between Sept. 21 and Nov. 16, and the 57-day strike is the lengthiest in NFL history. By time a new contract was signed, the schedule had been slashed to nine games.
The players staged a 42-day walkout during training camp, mostly over the issue of guaranteed contracts, but the strike fizzled when defectors begin crossing the picket line.
However, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney earned the lasting loyalty of his players by tossing them six packs of beer as they walked a picket line outside the team's training facility. Who knows if it was the beer but the Steelers won the next two Super Bowls.
Though hardly remembered, there was a brief lockout in 1968 (11 days) and an even shorter players' strike in 1970 (four days), both in the summer.
The names are familiar: Don Shula, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote and Norm Van Brocklin. But in 1956-57 they weren't only playing football. They were trying to secure such basic rights as a minimum leaguewide salary, per diem pay, getting uniforms and equipment maintained at the teams' rather than players' expense and being paid while injured. Players from every NFL team but the Chicago Bears joined the first NFL Players Association. The Bears were owned by George Halas, a bitter players' union foe.
Organizing didn't do the trick, so lawyer and former Notre Dame player Creighton Miller threatened an antitrust suit against the NFL. Because the league didn't enjoy the same antitrust exemption as Major League Baseball, the owners granted most of the players' demands including minimal insurance and pension plans.
Major League Baseball, seemingly, has been fighting labor battles since its origins in the 1870s. Here are some highlights.
After tremors briefly interrupted the baseball seasons of 1985 and 1990, a magnitude 9 earthquake shook the game to its foundations in 1994-95.
Once again owners sought financial relief from players in the form of a salary cap and the elimination of salary arbitration. Players walked out on Aug. 12, 1994. There would be no last-minute agreement and the rest of the baseball season was canceled. There was no World Series for the first time since 1904.
The strike carried over to the next year, threatening the '95 season. The owners planned on using replacement players.
The players appealed to the courts where future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against the owners on March 31, 1995. A panel from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld Sotomayor's decision, and on April 2, the 232-day strike finally was over.
Baseball, however, had learned a lesson. There has been no talk of lockouts or strikes this century.
Players walked out on June 12, 1981, over the owners' attempts to win back ground that had been lost in arbitration.
At issue was compensation for free agents. The owners believed a team that had lost a player to free agency should be able to "draft" a player from his new team that was not among 12 "protected" names on the roster. The players argued that any form of compensation would undermine free agency.
The matter was settled on July 31 when a compromise allowed teams who had lost a player to choose another player from a pool of all unprotected players, rather than just the signing team.
Baseball returned in August with the leaders of the first half of the season declared "division winners." The "winners" of the second half would then play the first half winners in the first divisional playoff round.
This left the Cincinnati Reds, whose 66 wins over the full season were the best in baseball, on the sidelines when the playoffs began. The Reds never forgave Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and were happy to join the move to replace him in 1984 with Peter Ueberroth.
Catfish Hunter's case had opened the door to free agency. Pitchers Andy Messersmith of the L.A. Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Baltimore Orioles busted it wide open. Messersmith, on the advice of union leader Marvin Miller, played the '75 season without a contract. McNally, although unofficially retired, did the same.
The players union then argued that because there were no contracts, both players should be declared free agents. On Dec. 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the players, striking down the ancient reserve clause that had bound players to one team in perpetuity. Messersmith and McNally were free agents, and a new era had come for Major League Baseball.
When Oakland A's owner Charlie Finely missed the date of a contract payment to star pitcher Catfish Hunter, it allowed Hunter and Marvin Miller to argue that the contract was null and void. An arbitrator agreed with Hunter, making him baseball's first official free agent.
For the first time every major league ballplayer was on strike in a battle over salary and pension issues. They continued their strike into the start of the regular season and nearly 90 games were lost. The owners ultimately capitulated.
Rather than accept a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, the erudite Flood challenged baseball's reserve clause and sued in federal court for antitrust violations. Flood v. Kuhn reached the Supreme Court in 1972 where the justices ruled in favor of Major League Baseball despite misgivings about the sport's longtime antitrust exemption.
Long before Eastbound and Down's Kenny Powers took his talents south of the border, outfielder Danny Gardella refused a contract from the New York Giants and accepted a more lucrative offer from the new Mexican League.
The league quickly folded. Gardella and other major leaguers who had signed Mexican contracts, including Mickey Owen, Max Lanier and Fred Martin, originally were banned from playing Major League Baseball for five years.
Gardella sued. The owners ripped him in the press, led by Branch Rickey who said Gardella's views on labor showed "communistic tendencies," fighting words at the outset of the Cold War.
Formed as a cooperative, the league featured profit-sharing and no reserve clause. When more than 80 National League and nearly 30 American Association players (including future Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers, John Clarkson, Tim Keefe and "King" Kelly) jumped to the new league the old leagues were stymied.
Failing to win in the courts, the richer National League and American Association won with the checkbook, offering better contracts to their former players and agreeing to merge some of the Players League teams into the older leagues.
For decades, the NBA prided itself on never losing a game to labor strife. That legacy crashed when a lockout cost the league nearly half of its 1998-99 schedule.
The NBA claimed 15 of its 29 teams were losing money. The players union said it was more like four. When the NBA went dark, the Washington Post's Tony Kornheiser called it "a dispute between tall millionaires and short millionaires."
After Commissioner David Stern threatened to cancel the entire season, the players relented and a cap on maximum player salaries was instituted. The games went on after a 204-day lockout.
When the owners instituted a lockout after the 1995 NBA Finals, the start of the next season appeared at risk. But secret negotiations between Stern and his assistant Russ Granik with players' union president Buck Williams and union executive director Simon Gourdine ended the lockout after 80 days.
Not every player was happy. Some of the high-priced superstars led by Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing forced some changes, including dropping a luxury tax. But Ewing and Jordan went too far in their effort to decertify the union and seek more radical changes such as abolishing the draft. The move to decertify was defeated by the players in a 226-134 vote.
Jordan quickly moved on. His Chicago Bulls registered a record 72-win season.
Named for their union leader, this action barred a merger with the smaller American Basketball Association as an illegal barrier to better salaries. As long as there was an ABA, NBA players could demand top dollar.
The suit was settled when players were given an increase in benefits, boosts in minimum salary, medical benefits and per diem money, plus increased player shares from the playoffs and All-Star Game. Four of the ABA teams merged with the NBA in 1976 but players were allowed to negotiate with more than one team.
The lack of a pension agreement and a desire for union recognition caused the best players in the game, including Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, to threaten a strike hours before the start of the 1964 All-Star Game at Boston Garden.
This was one of the few occasions when the NBA would receive national television exposure in the early '60s, and league President Walter Kennedy didn't want a nationwide embarrassment. He personally guaranteed the players that a pension plan would be discussed at the next owners' meeting. The players agreed to take the floor minutes before tipoff, and Kennedy ultimately persuaded NBA owners to approve a pension plan.
Starting on Sept. 15, 2004, and continuing until the following July, this 310-day lockout is the longest in U.S. sports history and resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season, the only full season lost to labor issues.
The owners, saying they had lost $300 million in the 2002-03 season, demanded a hard salary cap.
Players head negotiator Bob Goodenow eventually lost the support of the union, and a settlement with the owners was reached by union president Trevor Linden and senior director Ted Saskin.
The NHL's first major labor battle developed after the players were locked out in summer 1994. The big issues were a salary cap and the length of the regular season. A settlement didn't come until early 1995 and the 48-game season was the NHL's shortest since World War II.
A 10-day strike by the NHL players resulted in larger playoff shares, improved free agency and increased control of licensing agreements.
One of the most beloved and respected players in NHL history, Lindsay and Montreal's Doug Harvey led an attempt to form the first NHL players association. For his troubles, the Detroit Red Wings stripped Lindsay of his captaincy and traded him to the last-place Chicago Blackhawks. Detroit general manager Jack Adams told reporters Lindsay was making $25,000, a huge salary in the 1950s. His actual pay was $13,000.
Superstar Gordie Howe, who was well-paid by Adams, drew criticism for appearing to side with Red Wings management and not backing Lindsay, a decision Howe later would come to regret. Other association advocates also were penalized, including Hall of Famer Harvey, who eventually was sent to the lowly New York Rangers.
The Hamilton Tigers had the NHL's best record in 1925 and were favored to win their first Stanley Cup. They never even reached the playoffs. Angered that their salaries had not been increased when the schedule was expanded from 24 to 30 games, the Tigers players asked for a $200 bonus per man. When NHL President Frank Calder said no the Tigers decided to sit out the postseason.
The Montreal Canadiens ended up playing the Victoria Cougars of the Western Canada Hockey League for the Stanley Cup. Victoria became the last non-NHL to win the Cup, and the Tigers ultimately were sold to mobster Bill Dwyer who moved the team to New York and renamed them the Americans.