The NBA Players Union unanimously fired Executive Director Billy Hunter this month. A 469-page audit determined that, though Hunter committed no crime, he put his interests above union members – going as far as hiring relatives and failing to get approval for his five-year, $15 million contract. ”Going forward, we will no longer be divided, misled, or misinformed. This is our union, and we are taking it back,” said player union President Derek Fisher.
NBA players will select anther – hopefully more transparent – executive director. But that will fail to address the inherent dilemma: Unions bind members to contracts and limit both employees and employers.
In this case, employees are limited because – not only were they fooled into funding Hunter’s $3 million yearly salary and $1.3 million vacation payout – but in the best case scenario, they will still have to pay for at least a year of Hunter’s compensation. In the worst case, they will have to pay him the remaining $15 million of his contract. Employers are also restricted because they cannot bargain with the players directly, but only through the union.
Besides the fact that the union obstructs the employee-employer relationship, why do basketball players need unions in the first place? Roundball stars are the highest paid athletes in the world, making an average of $5.15 million a year. Do they really need union leaders to secure that second yacht? Even if some believe they do, it is the union that stifles competition among teams and even causes business to halt.
As recent as 2011, the NBA Players Union halted work for nearly five months. Twenty-two of the NBA’s 30 teams were losing revenue each year, so in order to stay in business they proposed a 40 percent cut of players’ salaries and a more stringent team salary cap. The union refused the terms, and so the league essentially shut down for five months. Sixteen games were canceled, television networks lost over one billion, staff workers were forced to take second jobs, and the players themselves lost an average of $220,000 each.
The union nearly dissolved, but some argued that this would lead to athletes being treated like “hired hands.” This claim is simply false. Basketball legend Magic Johnson called the threat “ridiculous” and Michael Jordan joined owners in a move to salvage the industry.
Perhaps the union should examine its own actions. The organization manages the players as if they are subservient men – too incompetent to negotiate a contract on their own and too dependent to trust that their ability will equate to adequate compensation. Instead, they succumb to a third party settling deals for all involved, stifling talent and competition.
Meanwhile, union leaders fill their own pockets.
NBA players should take the Hunter episode to rethink their association with any union. Perhaps if these high profile stars set the example, Michigan’s own workers will follow – and will take advantage of their new right-to-work liberty that takes hold next month.