There Is No “I” In Team

We have blogged many times about the need for worker voice whether that be in unionized or non-union work environments.  We also have identified many sources who also agree with us about the need for worker voice.

We’ve recently blogged the Federal Reserve has been pushing for investment in workers.  The Boston Fed website has a lengthy discussion on their website about worker voice.  Those interviewed on worker voice were from Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) and Harvard and they too agree worker voice is important.  Worker voice, as they tell, has traditionally been through unions to improve wages and working conditions but while it has now extended to a broader section of working class citizens to speak out on issues impacting them and society, people still believe it is better to be part of a union to have that voice.  As MIT representatives from the Sloan School of Management found out in a report they conducted, more people are interested in joining a union than in the 1970s or ’90s so that they can have that voice whether it be on wages or other issues affecting them.

PBS Newshour also found in another study Americans would prefer to join a union because they don’t have enough of a voice at work to make a difference and they see unions as helping with that.

The Roosevelt Institute wrote a report entitled, Rebuilding Worker Voices.  The authors of that report also confirmed worker voice is absolutely essential not just in the workplace but outside of it as well.  It provides an overall positive working environment when workers and managers resolve issues together. Plus, they said, it benefits our country as it is another example of the democratic process.

And finally Pew Research also did some polling which confirms much of the same results. In a poll done last August, more than 50% of Americans had a more positive view of unions than the 33% who did not.

So it makes sense when a group of athletes also see unions as a way to help them have a voice and  help with the issues they face.  This last winter, the leadership group of Olympic athletes started to look into forming a union for all U. S. Olympic athletes.

At the end of last year a report was released about the U. S. Olympic Committee’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal that involved Larry Nasser abusing U. S. gymnasts and other children.  The report identified there was a culture within the U. S. Olympics that cared more about protecting image than protecting athletes.  Athletes were afraid to speak out.  Even if an injury occurred, athletes didn’t want to say anything for fear of repercussion.  Following that report, several former Olympic medalists and athletes urged Congress to help dismantle the culture of the U. S. Olympic community that did little to protect athletes by revising the 1978 Amateur Sports Act to include more to protect athletes.

In an article that first appeared in the Wall St. Journal in February, the Athletes’ Advisory Council(AAC) brought the Major League Baseball union director with them to a meeting with the new CEO of the U. S. Olympic Committee.  The lack of trust between the athletes and U. S. Olympic Committee is real as one athlete explained.  For any change to take place, she said, it would have to come from the outside.  That lack of trust comes from what was stated in the report the U. S. Olympic Committee demonstrates a greater concern for a winning image than a concern for athletes. The Committee appears to view athletes more as a commodity.  Just like workers in a workplace, the athletes would like to be treated with respect and dignity and be viewed as the professionals they are.  They want to be partners with the U. S. Olympic Committee.

Athletes have had no voice in matters that impacted them, including the safety issues they have encountered.  In addition, athletes have difficulty supporting themselves as much of their time is needed for sport competition and that doesn’t allow them time for a job.  While athletes receive stipends, the amount is determined by how well an athlete does at a competition or any medals they receive.  Many have to rely on GoFundMe accounts or sponsors to make ends meet.  Some have been able to squeeze in part-time jobs but for many, having enough money is worrisome.

Will the Olympic athletes unionize?  It’s too early to say.  From the sounds of things, the issues they have aren’t a whole lot different than what workers face in the workplace.  Members of the Athletes’ Advisory Council and the union director for MLB have been meeting.  Other options are also going to be looked at as well.  Athlete voice is becoming more common.  German athletes have already started an association.

Recently, we sat down with a newly formed labor-management group to listen to their discussions. Labor was hoping to be a partner and was eager to help with issues coming up.  The labor members had an extensive number of years service to the organization so their expertise and experience would be valuable especially since the management people were fairly new to the organization.  It was great the managers were willing to listen and they were very polite but it was quite obvious they did not want to partner as they had finalized any plans on the issues that were in front of the group.

That incident is not much different than the athletes at the meeting with the new CEO of the Olympic Committee who proclaimed change needed to happen. If the new CEO doesn’t involve the athletes, nothing will happen.  If the new management at the organization we visited do not involve labor people, nothing will happen.  For change to happen in any organization it must include not just one or a few voices but many.   Anything that is done without the help of the athletes or workers will be met with skepticism, possibly mistrust and very little chance of success.  Some of that has already happened at both organizations.

The idea of voice is really important to people and it’s becoming more prevalent as issues occur that prevent people from being able to have a quality of life both at home and at work or wherever they may spend a lot of time.   The idea of being treated as partners either as athletes or workers shows the respect and dignity we all crave.  When it comes to something we like to do or spend a lot of time at, we want to have a say in it.  We have ideas based on who we are, what we do and our experiences and that’s good because we have greater ability to help an organization succeed.

It’s baffling why some people find it difficult to allow others to have a voice in decisions on matters that affect us.  We’ve identified many different sources who say the benefits far outweigh the detriments.  So why is it worker, or athlete, voice is prevented? So much more can be accomplished when people come together to actually act as a team.  It’s important to remember, there is no “I” in team and so much more can be accomplished together than as ONE.

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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