My story over at The American Prospect:
It seems like lockouts are as ubiquitous in professional sports as the thumping chords of “Seven Nation Army.” Labor disputes led to lockouts in basketball last year, football last year and this year (players and officials), and now the National Hockey League is experimenting with the strong-arm tactic. Owners locked out players on September 16, one day after the collective-bargaining agreement expired. So far, with the season canceled through October 24, 82 games are lost.
The cancellation of the preseason and the regular season’s first two weeks translates into a loss of at least $240 million for the NHL. But don’t think it’s inevitable that the season will swiftly come back to life: this is the fourth NHL lockout since 1991, and the third lockout presided over by the league’s current commissioner, Gary Bettman. Half the 1994 season was lost. The entire 2004-05 season, including the playoffs, was swallowed whole by labor discord, marking the first time a major North American professional sports team lost a full season because of a labor impasse.
For all the psychodrama of the NHL negotiations, hockey is not alone in taking labor disputes to the brink. Somehow, lockouts shifted from a last resort to a bargaining tactic. As Gabe Feldman describes at Grantland, there was a combined total of seven work stoppages in the NHL, NBA, and NFL between 1968 and 1994, and all of them were initiated by player strikes. Since then, there have been eight work stoppages in the NHL, NBA, and NFL; all were lockouts.
It’s a trend that parallels the world outside the stadiums. The New York Times reports that while lockouts were once unheard-of, they are an increasingly regular offensive move in non-sports industries. With the number of annual strikes at one-sixth what they were 20 years ago, partly because of weakening unions, lockouts are responsible for more work stoppages. “Last year,” according to the Times, “at least 17 employers imposed lockouts, telling their workers not to show up until they were willing to accept management’s contract offer.” They happened at places ranging from American Crystal Sugar to Sotheby’s, the art auction house.