All labor negotiations are poker games. It's as simple as that.
9 years ago I followed my Grandpa, Uncles, Dad, and a few cousins and did a turn as a shop steward where I worked. During this time I was heavily involved in the negotiations of the contract for Class A Hotels in SF and Local 2 of the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Union. I remember sitting in the F-mont's cafeteria when the Corporate HR Director sat at my table for lunch. She was an incredibly sharp lady, we had gotten to know each other over the previous year. Using Federal grant money the Hotels and the Union had gone about a long process of preliminary meetings and problem solving committees to try and utilize newer methods of labor relations. The concept was called "interest based problem solving." Short hand: remove traditional acrimony and replace it with an understanding of each other's positions and try to objectively settle these problems through a process that involved a diagram resembling a fish skeleton.
It didn't work.
The day HR sat with me was day 36 without a contract. There had been meetings all summer, but summer is a relatively slow time for the Hotels and so the threat of a strike wasn't credible until September, when a work stoppage would seriously effect business. She asked how the last meeting had gone and I told her it seemed that it was mostly posturing on both sides as there was no pressure to get anything done. Much to my surprise she spoke quite frankly, telling me that she thought, "the negotiation process is a stupid macho showdown game of poker and that all of work in the committees and classes had been for naught." She actually said "naught."
She was right, of course. Both sides start off bluffing, playing as if they have a strong hand and it isn't until the stakes are big enough that things get settled. The same union and hotels went at each other last fall and eventually called a truce putting everyone back to work right before December, the busiest month in the business. Now there's a cold war again because the Union isn't going to go back out during the slow times and management knows it.
The hockey lockout finally got to that crux position this last week and both sides finally started really negotiating. There was nothing stopping both sides from reaching an agreement a year ago except the belief of each side that their hand was stronger and the other side would fold. Both sides were evidently wrong. Oops.
The worst negotiations and worst agreements come from the settling of short term issues rather than addressing systemic problems that eventually will hurt both sides. For us in the Hotels 9 years ago, we took token pay raises rather than address the future health care funding problems, the core of the current roadblock to a contract now. For the NHL, the last contract was a case of geese and golden eggs. Simple marketing surveys and demographic analysis should have told the owners that a league of 30 teams, a third of them in markets with no history of the sport, was not going to fly. But the owners got greedy, they wanting the hundreds of millions that came with selling new franchises. The players took advantage of this, getting contracts that were never going to be financially feasible for the league.
Mr. Ryan put it quite clearly the other week: "The NHL is not one of the 4 major sports leagues." And he's right. TV ratings for three college basketball teams in the bay area are higher than for the Sharks. The same is true in Phoenix, Tampa, North Carolina and others. Hell, even in Minneapolis the pro team doesn't play on Saturday nights because that's college game night.
So, Super Mario and The Great One are trying to cobble something together but I can't see that it's anything more than triage. The Hotel workers can eventually get what they want (health care, pay raise) because they are negotiating against how profitable the Hotels will be whereas the players are negotiating against whether some of these teams are profitable at all.
After we settled nine years ago, management came to the Union asking for help to get back the business that had been driven away by the dispute. Over the next 5 years the hotels had record business and the employees had security, pay raises, and comprehensive health care. My point is that common sense should dictate that while everyone in the boat may disagree over direction, delegation of work, and work conditions . . . it is most important that everyone agree that no one and no group should be allowed to drill holes in the hull*.
*Yes, this should have ended back with the poker analogy but I just really don't know all that much about poker to have pulled it off. Sorry.
Go in Peace