Even in Labor Peace, Players Must #StayReady
The negotiation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and NFL is always a hot topic. Will there be a work stoppage? What priorities are important to each side? Who will “win” the negotiation? This process of collective bargaining is certainly the most all-encompassing bargaining session, covering the core issues of shares of revenue, hours, working conditions and benefits. The NFLPA makes every effort to represent our players’ varied interests in the most comprehensive way during this negotiation, which is what was accomplished with the 2020 CBA. We ratified a deal that secured the macro issues for our players and protects ourselves from uncertainty for the long-term.
The common misperception is that the work for our player leadership and union is now done, but the truth is that collective bargaining is an ongoing process. In between the major CBA agreements, new and potentially unforeseen issues come up that require our attention. For the NFLPA to continue advancing player interests, it’s critical for players to stay engaged and informed. The biggest example of this, of course, is our negotiations with the NFL over COVID-19 economics and protocols. This process was successful, thanks to the participation and strength of our players and player leadership.
Within a week of passing the 2020 CBA, the country was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The work rules for our normal offseason program needed to be renegotiated given the unique circumstances. We weren’t completely sure we’d be able to play football in the fall, but protecting our players’ workout bonuses that were tied to participating in OTAs was a priority. We negotiated a fair solution that protected players’ health and financial incentives while executing virtual workouts and meetings.
Once the offseason was worked out, our focus shifted to the negotiations on the terms of playing a season of professional football during a pandemic. We had to negotiate how to handle the pending revenue shortfall, player opt-outs and the protections necessary for keeping our players as safe as possible. The NFLPA’s positions were strengthened and reinforced with the player-led #wewanttoplay social media campaign, when more than 400 players demonstrated the power of a unified voice and put pressure on the NFL to grant us the necessary safety protections in order for us to return to work. Our message was clear: we wanted to play, but we wanted to be as safe as possible, too.
One other example of this was the decision by player leadership to negotiate a delay to the start of Social Security Offset for Total & Permanent Disability benefit recipients that was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2021. Our player leadership was extremely passionate about finding an agreeable compromise that would allow the former players more time to adjust to this change. After returning to the negotiating table with the NFL, we were able to successfully postpone the Social Security offset of “T&P” for three more years. It was the right thing to do, and we didn’t need to wait until the next CBA to make it right.
These examples of adjustments to our CBA underscore the necessity and progress that can be made between the major collective bargaining sessions with strong player involvement. Despite the progress made by the scientific and medical community toward combatting the COVID-19 virus, we will likely still feel the effects of the pandemic well into 2021; and as a result, we can expect to return to the bargaining table with the NFL yet again to reexamine all relevant issues as we look forward to the 2021 football season.
We don’t always know what issues will bring us back to the bargaining table, or when we might be needed, but I know that an informed and active membership is the best way to stay ready for anything that comes our way. I know all eyes are focused on the Super Bowl this week – and for good reason – but in March, we will host our annual Rep Meeting in a virtual format and we need all of our player leaders to do their part. Although it will feel different from sitting around the table as we usually do to discuss the issues and solutions we’d like to see implemented, this meeting is such an important opportunity for players to help chart the direction and future of our agenda.
When our NFLPA staff and player leadership are intimately involved in learning what’s important to all our members, we can go to work on advancing and defending our rights in the many years between CBAs. There is still work to do and we can only achieve our gains not yet attained if we do it together.