Even Tom Brady needed union
By George H. Nee
Last Thursday, Tom Brady was able to lead the New England Patriots onto the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers because he is a member of a union: the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). We are proud of the fact that Brady and the other 51 members of the New England Patriots Chapter are affiliated with the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
Amid the pomp and circumstance of the Patriots raising their fourth Super Bowl banner over Gillette Stadium, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was football as usual in New England. However, the past several months have been Brady’s season of discontent, which mercifully came to an end when a federal judge in New York overturned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s four-game “Deflategate” suspension. Thanks to the protections provided by the NFLPA contract, Brady took the field as the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, just as he hasevery season since 2002.
Since Brady is a member of the NFLPA, he plays under the NFL and the union’s collectively bargained contract, which lays out work rules, pay and benefits, health and safety regulations and — most importantly for Patriots fans — disciplinary measures and due process.
There are many occupations where workers are represented by a union, and all are afforded rights that provide for good wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and a voice on the job. Many people regard construction workers, teachers and school support staff, state and municipal workers, truck and bus drivers, nurses and allied health care workers, and grocery store workers as traditional union members.
Today’s labor movement is much more diverse and varied than it once was. The union ranks include scientists, engineers, reporters, airline pilots, doctors and, yes, even professional athletes who are protected by a union, just as traditional union workers are.
Workers who are not covered by a union contract are considered to be “at-will” employees who can be disciplined or even fired at the whim of their boss with no recourse or due process. If the four-game suspension had been allowed to stand, Brady would have suffered a 25 percent pay cut, costing him millions of dollars in salary and performance bonuses.
Yes, Brady is a highly paid professional athlete, but his livelihood was still jeopardized because of an autocratic and vindictive boss. To put the suspension into perspective, imagine if an average Rhode Islander earning $48,838 were to be treated the same as Brady. He or she would be barred from going to work and providing for his or her family for 13 weeks, costing more than $12,000 in salary.
If you have a Roger Goodell in your workplace, you can stand up to him and do what Tom Brady and millions of other American workers have done and join a union. Having a union provides workers with a voice on the job, dignity on the job and respect on the job, as well as a path to the middle class.
As President Obama said at a Labor Day breakfast in Boston: “Even Brady’s happy he’s got a union. They had his back. You know if Brady needs a union, we definitely need unions.”
—George H. Nee is president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shouts on the sideline during last Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. AP PHOTO