The Obama Watch

Lockouts and Fiscal Cliffs

As the Obama-Boehner negotiations run amok, the president has the temerity to instruct the NHL to resolve its standoff.

By 12.19.12

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With our nation sliding ever closer to the fiscal cliff, President Obama and Speaker Boehner are engaged in a dangerous kabuki dance of political brinksmanship once again, with economic chaos waiting in the wings. They seem to have reached an impasse that might lead to a Thelma and Louise launch off the cliff for all of us.

Then again, it all sounds so very familiar: the blame game and finger pointing and accusations of failures to “reach out” for a middle ground, to bargain in good faith. As Yogi would say, it’s like déjà vu all over again. Yet another replay round of Groundhog Day from the debt ceiling brinksmanship of just last summer. 

But, hope springs eternal that, after all the posturing and dueling press conferences and campaign-style staged visits with “ordinary citizens,” a sensible deal will be struck at the eleventh hour.

Meanwhile, hockey players have been locked out by the owners since September 15, resulting in the cancellation through December 31 of 527 games or 43% of the season. With the entire 2012-13 season in jeopardy, even expert mediators have failed to bring the parties together, resulting in talk of antitrust lawsuits and unfair labor practice refusal to bargain charges. The prolonged battle may escalate to the courts and the labor board as negotiations founder. 

With both sets of talks stuck in neutral and dire outcomes awaiting a failure to reach an agreement, President Obama had the temerity to lecture the NHL and NHL players’ union on their failure to reach an agreement. (That dressing down, coming from a devout pickup basketball player and huge NBA fan, probably was all the more galling to hockey league owners, players, and fans alike.)

In a recent interview with a Minneapolis television station, Obama scolded, “My message to owners and players is, ‘You guys make a lot of money on the backs of fans, so do right by your fans. You can figure out how to spread out a bunch of revenue that you’re bringing in, but do right by the people who support you.’” Of course, he’s absolutely right, the league and players should have resolved their contract dispute by now. But, the president has no standing to be critical of the lack of progress in anyone else’s negotiations when his own linger in such disgraceful disarray.

If I were an NHL owner or player, or involved in any way in those negotiations, I would have responded in words (with expletives deleted) to the effect of, “Butt out, Mr. President. Why don’t you take care of your own shameful bargaining stalemate and get your own damn deal done. You and Mr. Boehner and the rest of you lawmakers make a lot of money on the backs of taxpayers. Surely, you can figure out how to do right by the citizens who support the entire operation of government with their tax dollars. So, enough with your self-righteous pontificating. Just mind your own negotiations and quit telling us how to do our jobs!”

But, the president’s hypocrisy continued as the interview wrapped up: “And, I shouldn’t be involved in a dispute between really wealthy players and even wealthier owners. They should be able to settle this themselves. And, remember who it is that’s putting all that money in their pockets.” Well, Mr. President, I hope you listened carefully to what you were saying because you are exactly right -- you shouldn’t be involved at all in the NHL impasse, you ought to be focused entirely on your own miserable failure to strike a deal and keep our nation away from the fiscal cliff disaster.

On second thought, maybe the NHL negotiators should turn the tables on the president and make some suggestions to him on how to break through the fiscal cliff impasse. I’m sure those suggestions would be about as welcome and useful as the president’s critique of professional hockey from his “bully pulpit.”

An NHL referee should blow his whistle on this nonsense and send the president to the penalty box for 2 minutes for interference.

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About the Author

Gerald D. Skoning is a Chicago lawyer who specializes in labor and employment law.