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Replacement Refs: A Perfect Example Why We Need Unions

It's time for NFL team owners to end the referee lockout.

The NFL referee lockout is a complete disaster—something that’s obvious to everyone except (supposedly) the people keeping the referees locked out. Much ink has been spent on decrying the replacement referees and how they’re ruining football (never mind how they’re putting players’ safety at risk). Even unlikely supporters, missing the obvious irony in their sudden support for union workers, are taking to the virtual streets.

  • @GovWalker: After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs
  • Paul Ryan: “You guys watch that Packer game...I mean give me a break! It is time to get the real refs"

What hasn’t gotten much attention is this lockout is symbolic of a much bigger issue: Training for a high-performing workforce matters. But individual employers rarely have the incentive to invest in training—it’s hard to realize the return. That’s why the role of unions is so important: They work to make sure employees have the training and standards to realize their potential as committed workers, and they can do that on a large-scale, cost-efficient basis.

Sign the petition we’ve launched with our partner Daily Kos to NFL owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to demand they end the referee lockout.

Regular referees are reliable because they’re highly trained professionals—a necessity to be a union referee. They’re a high-profile example of thousands of other professions whose work we rely on every day to get the job done and who are trained by their union. The labor movement is the largest workforce trainer of adults outside the U.S. military. Need examples?

  • Remember Captain Sully and "Miracle on the Hudson?" He was a huge safety advocate through his union, serving as the Air Line Pilots (ALPA) representative during a National Transportation Safety Board investigation and as a local air safety chairman.
  • How about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center? The people who are thousands of feet in the air are union members, as well as veterans. The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department’s (BCTD's) training program Helmets to Hardhats works across the country to train veterans for high-skill construction projects, including at the World Trade Center.
  • The president of a Chicago-based construction company who works with union workers says this about his experience: “Here’s what [the union’s] training center means to me: We’re getting the highest caliber craftsmen in the business. It’s going toward productivity and attitude.
  • Even Mitt Romney recognized the value of unions before he was against them. In 2002, after the Olympics, he had this to say about Electrical Workers (IBEW) members: “We thought it was going to take three weekends with 20 people. Instead it took 20 weekends with several hundred people. And the work was done by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. They worked up there, they put on the snow shoes, they treaded up there to help us.”

Union members bring huge value to our communities and our lives every day. Scott Walker and others would do well to remember that the next time they treat union members— firefighters, teachers, autoworkers—differently than union referees who are cut from the same cloth.

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