NFL refs fiasco possessed power to unite

Shannyn Moore

I'm thinking about becoming a football fan. American football. I'm already a soccer fan.

Frankly, football has always seemed a bit scattered to me. I prefer to watch it on mute. The sounds of helmets crashing reminds me of that "and next time I'm cracking skulls" line from "The Breakfast Club."

Which explains why I had no idea this game had the power to bring Americans together during such difficult and divisive times.

We saw pure magic this week: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a Kumbaya moment. Both went on record saying the NFL needed to bring back their locked-out officials.

And it wasn't just those two. It seemed as though Americans of every stripe came together to support the collective bargaining rights of the National Football League refs. After a scab debacle that robbed the Green Bay Packers of a win, America had had enough. Even Seahawk fans wanted the "real" refs back.

The referees' absence came about because the league owners wanted to pull pensions in favor of a 401(k), moving from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan at the mercy of a deregulated, casino-like Wall Street. The owners locked out the refs.

Locking out employees happens more often than you think. There are currently 1,300 workers locked out of the American Crystal Sugar Company's five plants in the upper Midwest. The employer didn't want to bargain with the union over health insurance costs and subcontracting, so it locked them out -- in August 2011.

If only there were a football game called The Sugar Bowl to get Americans to rally behind those workers.

In January 2010, Rio Tinto locked out 570 workers at its Borax mine. The London-based company not only had a private security company blocking the workers, but Kern County sheriff's deputies showed up in riot gear.

Earlier this year, Cooper Tires locked out workers for 13 weeks. To get their jobs back, employees had to agree to work side by side with "student workers" who were paid a flat rate.

The number of worker strikes has gone down -- but lockouts are up.

Thousands of Chicago teachers striking a few weeks ago couldn't bring the country together. Critics who accused teachers of being greedy and hurting children somehow couldn't apply the same logic to NFL refs.

It became clear pretty quickly that professional refs were better than substitutes. But teachers? Easily replaced.

Let me get this straight, NFL refs, who officiate a very popular game, are more vital to the nation than the public school teachers who educate our children?

The disappearance of the American Middle Class is tied directly to the decline in union membership. This isn't rocket science, folks. Working men and women are working harder for less. Union membership peaked in the 1950s -- not coincidentally the period when America was the most envied industrial and economic power in the world, with the strongest, most prosperous middle class.

It was also the time when the highest marginal tax rate was 90 percent, and "job creators" actually left their money in their businesses and their country. They invested in new technology, new products and their employees.

Decent health care and pensions weren't a luxury reserved for senior management, they were the norm. Even Adam Smith and Henry Ford understood that workers had to be able to afford the products they make for capitalism to succeed.

After a decade of Bush tax cuts at a cost of more than a trillion dollars, the employment needle hasn't budged. The divide and polarization of the country has never been greater. We're in a benefits-envy race to the bottom. Instead of fighting for living wages, health care and a decent pension, the middle class is pitted against itself in a cynical, divide-and-conquer strategy brought to you by the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

NFL refs made an average of $149,000, plus benefits, last year. The NFL commissioner made $12 million. I realize they're part of a $9 billion-a-year, money-making enterprise, unlike a school system, and this week they single-handedly produced consensus between right and left.

Maybe they are worth it.

Congress couldn't come together to pass a Violence Against Women Act. Republicans killed a bill that would have given job opportunities to veterans. And an anonymous, lone Republican is blocking financial support for disabled veterans. The country remains polarized over the idea that citizens should have access to basic, affordable health care.

We can't agree on anything, except that a game should have fair rules. If only we could agree that we all deserve the opportunity to earn a living wage, a decent retirement and affordable health care. Perhaps then we could rebuild the middle class and the country with it.

Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. statewide on ABC affiliates KYUR Channel 13 Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.

Shannyn Moore