In Madison, Tenn., where 1,200 Peterbilt truck workers have been
walking the picket lines for six months, they love the NBA labor
dispute. It gives them something to finally laugh about.
They hear New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing walk up to the
microphones and say, with a straight face, "We're fighting for
our livelihood. We can't survive if we sign this contract," and
it breaks them up. Last season Ewing made about $100,000 per
basket. When he still had a job, the average Peterbilt guy
didn't make that much in two years.
They see where Boston Celtics guard Kenny Anderson whines that
if things get any worse, he may have to sell one of his eight
cars, and it tickles the workers' ribs. As the Peterbilt strike
turned lockout continues, ribs are something the picketers are
seeing a lot more of lately.
Every NBA gazillionaire with the gall to feel one gram sorry for
himself needs to cart himself and his jewelry to Madison.
According to union members, many of the workers have been
evicted from their apartments or have lost their homes. People
are living in relatives' basements, moving in with their kids,
sleeping in shelters. "We've got families with five and six kids
that we have to send down to United Way for meals," says Donna
Dotts, a welder, "so I guess it's kind of hard to see how these
basketball players need more."
Not that the players and the workers don't have a lot in common.
NBA players want the minimum salary for veterans raised to
around $1 million, superstars to be able to re-sign for upwards
of $15 million without their teams' having to pay a luxury tax,
and they want 60% of the league's gross revenues. The Peterbilt
workers have outrageous demands, too. They're asking for a
cost-of-living allowance, the company to kick in on some health
insurance for pensioners and the chance to retire at a livable
wage before 65.
Anderson let The New York Times get a look at his money woes
last week. He was supposed to make $5.8 million this season,
which works out to about a measly $3 million after taxes. But,
hey, he's got expenses, don't forget, including $75,000 a year
just to insure his fleet of Porsches, Range Rovers and Mercedes,
and $150,000 yearly rent on his Beverly Hills crib (pool, tennis
and basketball courts, four-car garage). Plus he helps support
four children he has had by three women, including his wife, and
he's got to have his $120,000 "hangin' around money," as he
calls it. That leaves him with only $2 million a year to invest.
"I have to start getting tight," Anderson said.
You'll forgive Larry Haynes if he doesn't throw Anderson a
telethon. Haynes is a truck-cab assembler who's getting $405 a
week in strike insurance and unemployment. Oh, he doesn't have
Anderson's car-insurance problems, mostly because he has pawned
two vehicles to pay his $500-a-month rent. He has a wife and two
small kids, and he has already gone through his savings. Not
that he doesn't have "hangin' around money." He allows $40 every
two months so the family can have a big night out. "Like, we
might go eat at Applebee's," he says.
C'mon, Larry, you have to start getting tight.
"I hear the NBA players talking about struggling and barely
surviving," Haynes says. "Man, they don't know what real life is."
I think for most of us, the most difficult part of the NBA
lockout is deciding which side we'd most like to see crushed by
a comet. It's like a death match between Michael Bolton and
Julio Iglesias. It'd be wonderful if, somehow, both sides could
Until it's over, the owners and players need to shut up. They
need to come out of their meetings, head for the microphones,
smile hugely and say, "It's going pretty well. And even if it
isn't, who cares? We're all richer than Oprah!" They need to
stop bragging about how "united" they are. Yeah, it's easy to be
united while on your cell phones in four-button Italian suits
around the baccarat tables at Bellagio.
Try being united every morning down at the little union hall in
Madison, where men try to hold their heads high without three
bucks in their wallets and women try to hang on to hope wearing
the same dress for two weeks straight.
There are two major labor disputes in America right now. One of
them is a joke.
surviving. Man, they don't know what real life is."