Strikes in particular have been used as a bargaining chip during collective bargaining negotiations. Players unions can use the threat of a strike to motivate owners to capitulate to their demands. If this is unsuccessful, then players can follow through on their threat and effectively shut down the professional sports industry. For the human resources professional, the potential of a strike is a significant problem. It hinders the smooth and desired negotiations in collective bargaining and undermines the productivity of the organization as a whole. If it is the role of human resources departments in an industry, professional sports included, to keep workers working, then even the possibility of a players strike would be anathema to the HR professional.
The strikes that occur in professional sports can almost invariably be traced back to underlying labor policies placed on players, specifically those restraint systems that are designed to restrict players' mobility among teams. In addition to a draft, human resources policies are designed to improve the overall competitiveness of the industry as a whole (McCormick, 1989). Of course, by competitiveness, I am not referring to the usual types of economic competition, but rather inter-team competition. The draft, for example, works in inverse order based on the success of the teams the previous years. The purpose is to allow weaker teams to theoretically pick up stronger players and enhance the excitement of upcoming games. The intent is to increase the strength and popularity of all teams, not merely those that are the most successful.
Unfortunately, players do not tend to like these restraints on their movement between teams because they limit their individual ability to market their skills and enhance their careers. The strikes that occur within professional sports can be said to be caused, in large part, by these kinds of restraints on players (McCormick, 1989). Of course, because restraint systems are basically elaborate human resources policies, this means that the ultimate cause of player strikes within the professional sports industry can be traced back to implicit HR departments that attempt to tightly control the behavior of employees, in this case athletes. Collective bargaining can be seen as the means through which HR departments in professional sports attempt to mediate the conflict that arises out of restraint clauses and placate players unions by meeting many of their demands.
The nature of professional sports, especially the characteristics of ownership combined with the strength of players unions, makes tacit collusion between these two groups all but inevitable. The end result is collective bargaining between two groups that effectively have a stranglehold on their respective market segments (Adams and Brock, 1997). Market economists are quite familiar with the bilateral monopoly, or cartel. In this economic situation, two groups collude with one another in order to maximize profits by strengthening their combined market dominance...
Ultimately, in this kind of a situation, the tendency will be for the disparate cartel parties to coalesce their collective power rather than maintain an antagonistic relationship.
Obviously, such an arrangement is much more beneficial. Further, it does not take much of an intellectual leap to recognize the professional sports -- in structure, conduct, and performance -- is an example of a bilateral cartel in which team owners and players unions form wary working relationships in order to maintain collective market dominance (Adams and Brock, 1997). Neither can fully manage without the other, and yet both struggle to improve their respective market positions. No matter what conflicts may arise between these two cartel partners periodically, the players unions and the owners will always strive to minimize any deleterious effects on the collective capacity to dominate the market.
It has become increasingly hard to sympathize with players who strike, considering that professional athletes are some of the best-compensated workers in the world economy. The threat of a strike by players unions ultimately results in greater gains for the athletes themselves, as collective bargaining generally results in higher salaries or more compensation (Shook, 2002). While for the human resource professional, the process of collective bargaining can be stressful and disruptive, in the end it is in the best interests of both parties at the table to resolve the negotiations to the best of their ability. In fact, the collective bargaining environment offers a unique environment for human resource professionals to shape the nature of labor relations within the industry. Rather than a hindrance to organizational success, collective bargaining can be the means by which both players and owners can enhance their collective industry positions.
From this, we can draw a number of specific conclusions: in professional sports, with powerful players unions and powerful owner cartels, there is an undeniable drift towards vertical collusion between these two groups, despite apparent conflict. This collusion can only exist when there is some market insulation from competition, which is the reality in professional sports, which are organized as de facto monopolies that resist open competition either between players or between leagues (Adams and Brock, 1997). For HR departments, this means that collective bargaining is not fundamentally combative, but rather the method by which a cartel industry develops and adapts its labor policies to shifting economic and political considerations.
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Covell, D., Walker, S., Hess, P.W., and Siciliano, J. (2007). Managing Sports Organizations: Responsibility for Performance. 2nd ed. Butterworth-Heinemann.
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