Union members wonder why NBA, MLB and NHL players aren't showing support

Workers from Unite Here Local 24 demonstrate at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit on Sunday. (AP)
Workers from Unite Here Local 24 demonstrate at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit on Sunday. (AP)

Nia Winston is a huge NBA fan. She is a season-ticket holder for the Detroit Pistons. She’s excited for the season to start.

But she’s also president of a Midwestern hospitality workers union that is on strike against Marriott. And she is beyond upset at some NBA players.

The Brooklyn Nets walked past the Local 24 picket line on their way into the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit on Sunday, and back out to their team bus on Monday, when they had a preseason game. That is a no-no in the labor world.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Winston said by phone Monday. “They’re in a players association. They’re union members as well.”

There have been similar scenes in Boston, where the New York Yankees and Edmonton Oilers were seen walking past picket lines in front of their hotels. Brian Lang, the president of Local 26 in Boston, called the Yankees “scabs” and told Boston Magazine, “The Red Sox would never spit on their fans the way the Yankees are.”

Even the New York City mayor chimed in, with Bill de Blasio tweeting, “That’s why I’m calling on the Yankees to stop crossing a picket line in Boston and find a new hotel to stay in during their visit to Fenway.”

An MLB players association spokesman told several media outlets the workers “deserve to be heard and deserve our support.” He declined additional comment to Yahoo Sports on Monday.

The logistical issue for these professional teams is that hotels are often booked months in advance. Because the size of the traveling contingent is so large, it can be difficult to find another hotel on short notice. The Oilers, for example, were traveling back from Europe when they came upon the picket line in Boston.

But the nearest Marriott in Detroit (where there is no strike) had more than 300 rooms available as of Monday afternoon.

“We are ride or die for players,” Winston says. “We take [basketball] seriously. For guys to do that and not even think about it – they just walk past, they don’t care. Anytime issues come up with players [in collective bargaining], the fans and workers have been allies. It’s unfortunate. We got no handshake, nothing.”

Emails seeking comment from the Nets were not immediately returned.

Winston said she has reached out to the NBA Players Association and heard nothing back. Yahoo Sports also reached out to the NBAPA on Monday and got no response.

Winston said the lack of knowledge about the strike isn’t enough of an excuse. She says there was a wedding at the Westin over the weekend and the bride went out of her way to offer support.

“If a bride can do that, why can’t a player do that?” Winston said. “We hugged and kissed. I know she couldn’t change her date. But she, her father and her mother went to speak with the GM.”

(In a statement, Marriott said the following: “We are disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike at this time. During the strike our hotels are open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests. While we respect our associates’ rights to participate in this work stoppage, we also will welcome any associate who chooses to continue to work.”)

The disappointment with athletes from multiple sports will mount as the strikes go on. Workers are striking at hotels in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Oakland and elsewhere. They are fighting for wage increases to clean rooms.

Only a few decades ago, pro athletes and labor workers almost had a symbiotic relationship. “Back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, just because of where the players came from, they would appreciate the importance of the unions,” says Curtis Harris, who is writing his doctorate dissertation on labor and the NBA at American University. “A lot of their parents were working at farming jobs, coal mining factory, industrial jobs. I don’t think it’s a surprise they unionized in the ’50s and ’60s.”

These days, as Harris says, NBA players are “almost companies unto themselves.”

“It shows me they don’t care,” Winston says. “I think celebrities can get caught up in the moment and not realize the public looks up to them. Workers on the line are huge basketball fans. To walk past them and not even nod or say, ‘I hope you guys get what you need.’ That wasn’t right.”

Winston has more pressing matters to deal with than how athletes react to strikes. She remains a Pistons fan and still plans to use those season tickets to express her displeasure.

“I’m looking forward to the next time the Pistons play the Nets,” she says. “I’m greatly looking forward to that.”

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