Three Lockouts And Its Over

It used to be “three strikes and your out”. Now it appears to be “three lockouts and its over”. Workers used to strike in order to get the attention of their bosses when demanding more money and better working conditions. Now, its the bosses who are demanding more money- or a better share of the pie- and respect.

Once the partying last winter was over after the Super Bowl, the NFL moguls locked out the players from preparing for a new season, let alone playing one. Players were put on hold from going to the training facilities and doing off-season workouts. Trading of players between teams and the signing of free agents was suspended as well.

The same happened with the NBA as soon as the Dallas Mavericks accepted their championship trophy from the NBA commissioner. No trades, free agent signings, off-season workouts while team owners and players duke it out as they fight over salary caps and slotting of salary levels at the various draft positions.

Now comes word that the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago has canceled several summer performances and possibly the fall season as well. The dancers have been locked out by management. The reason- it’s not so much about wages. In fact, supposedly both sides have agreed on salaries for all levels of dancers for the next three to five years. The big issue is that management wants the dancers to be obligated to be at rehearsals six hours a day whereas the dancers want no more than five hours. Management says that they cannot hire world class choreographers unless they can be guaranteed thirty hours a week of practice. The refusal on the part of the dancers to increase rehearsal time is because many of the lower level performers have more than one job in order to make ends meet. They do not want give up free time for lesser paid rehearsal wages.

Nearly 100 years ago, the same types of disagreements were happening on Broadway. After World War One, stage actors got tired of rehearsing for free often for several weeks and then to be let go or have a lousy show fold on them after a couple of performances. They started demanding that they get paid for rehearsals or they would start a union. The legendary George M. Cohan was known for giving stipends for rehearsals and his shows usually had good runs. He took umbrage, however, at employees dictating terms to him and his fellow producers. He toed a hard line against the organization of theatrical unions. Both sides ended up hating him when the dispute was over- actors and fellow producers alike. His solace was that he made millions from his productions despite being at odds with the tax man in trying to establish that he was in partnership with his mother after his father died and not sole owner of his theatrical company.

In today’s world, dancers lose income because they make a stand on having to show up a few extra hours a week for practice. In the other world of entertainment- professional sports- football players are fighting over a 19 billion dollar pot with their bosses while basketball players are doing similar for a measly 4 billion. In the end, both the employers and employees figure that the rest of us- the suckers who watch them perform in person and on television- will gladly pay whatever increases are needed in order to make both warring parties happy.

I’d like to start a lockout by the suckers against those in the business of exploiting our hard-earned income. Enough is enough. It is ludicrous to pay individual athletes millions of dollars a year to perform. Imagine if a baseball team owner didn’t give that first baseman or left fielder or starting pitcher fifteen million dollars. Of course, we’d depend on the largesse of the owner to put that savings in payroll to good use and lower the admission price to bring back the average fan to the game. Now, that’s an idea to dance about.

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