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There are two work stoppages in professional sports right now, and it has me thinking a bit about "fair." For the National Hockey League, the owners have locked out the players because the current labor agreement grants over half of hockey-related revenue to the players, and the owners want that down under half. The National Football League has locked out its referees because they are wanting the continuation of a pension plan in any new agreement. In both cases, neither side is budging despite strong headwinds to the contrary.

What is "fair" hardly matters in business. It becomes more about leverage and public relations. Actually, it is only about leverage. Even with fans ready to walk away from both spots, the guys with the checkbook still have all the leverage (and patience) to get what they want. So to fight this system is futile, but I think it is worthwhile to point out that it is not a fair deal.

A columnist for ESPN pointed out that the idea of a pension was a fairy tale anyway, and that nobody has one in this economy. Her reasoning is essentially "just give it up" and "life's not fair." While her pragmatism is well intentioned, it represents something that just doesn't work for me.

Neither you or I have the personal resources to fight a court battle with a Fortune 500 company. They would bleed us dry, no matter how justified our case may be. My $50 campaign contribution and volunteer work barely makes a dent when a PAC can effectively buy an election. An employer can fire you tomorrow to cut costs or to hire in somebody who will work for less. Other than state-funded unemployment income (which is about to run dry), there's little help available. Your insurance can deny coverage for filling out the wrong piece of paper. The list goes on.

I once thought unions were antiquated and no longer relevant now that federal law covers most of what they initially fought for. Now I realize their declining relevance isn't because of being outdated, but because they are never starting out at "fair." As long as that leverage is there and those dollars keep funding the nuclear approach, collective bargaining is little more than a delay for the inevitable.

That doesn't make it right or fair and it is rarely the outcome that benefits the most people. But that's how capitalism works, I suppose.