After sharing my pipe-dream plea for the professional athletes’ unions to show more solidarity with other, less elite, workers in other unions (see: “Workers of the world unite“), I got quite a few responses pointing out the many real and daunting reasons it’s not likely to ever be more than a pipe-dream.
I really do think that such solidarity — even if only symbolic gestures — shown by the millionaire players of the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major Leagues would be a public relations win for them, garnering much more fan support for their side in their own labor disputes. And they could use their fame and popularity to do some real good for hard-working people who never enjoy that kind of attention or leverage.
But if we can’t make that a reality, maybe we can at least make it a more widespread fantasy. Maybe making it a fantasy could be the first step toward making it real.
What I’m suggesting, in other words, is “Player’s Union” — the movie.
Start with the housekeeping staff at a Manhattan hotel. They’ve just learned that their next contract includes no raise, but doubles the employee share of the cost of health benefits. The Norma Rae of this bunch — let’s say Jennifer Lopez* — convinces them to strike, but they have little leverage and she’s struggling to hold the line. These women can’t afford the new contract, but they can’t afford a lengthy strike either.
As it happens, this very same Manhattan hotel is the site of negotiations between the NFL Players Union and the owners. Mixed up in all that is a flashy, loudmouthed Chad Ochocinco-type — let’s say Will Smith — who has tweeted himself into controversy and the thick of this dispute by calling out the other professional athletes’ unions for not supporting the NFL players.
Because this is a movie, his Twitter-offensive works and he convinces a bunch of NBA, baseball and hockey stars to join him in a show of support for the NFL players. That gets us a string of cameo appearances by real-life star athletes, giving our movie its appeal to the lucrative young male audience Hollywood craves. Getting these young males to line up for this movie is a neat trick because, at its core, this isn’t a sports movie, it’s a romantic comedy.
The rom-com plot unfolds after Will and his fellow all-stars show up at the hotel, only to find the sidewalk out front already claimed by J.Lo and her co-workers, carrying picket signs. The maid confronts the wide receiver, shaming him with the very same logic he used on his fellow millionaire athletes. Will and J.Lo annoy each other — they argue, they fight, they fall in love, yadda yadda yadda.
Lots of crowd-pleasing scenes along the way — Derek Jeter picketing alongside an unimpressed grandmother in a Mets cap; a 4-foot-11 member of the housekeeping staff carrying a two-person banner with All-Star 7-footer Dwight Howard; Troy Polamalu and a co-worker of J.Lo’s trading hair-care advice; Peyton Manning asks one outspoken old woman for her autograph; etc.
The jocks rally for the maids, the maids rally for the jocks. Happy endings all around.
We could throw in a sick kid or make the whole thing unfold at Christmastime, but I don’t think we’d even need that kind of overkill. I think just the basic combination of Cinderella and David & Goliath would have audiences cheering this movie. They would cheer for a movie in which unions are the Good Guys. They would cheer because they would be emotionally invested in the just resolution of a labor dispute for women they barely even see in real life.
Frank Capra made movies like that — Cinderella stories in which the underdogs came out on top. “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means,” Oscar Wilde said. But I think stories matter.
The stories we tell are, among other things, a way to remind ourselves of who we want to be and of who we wish we were. And that can make them a way of helping ourselves to become what we ought to be.
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* Lopez was appealing in Maid in Manhattan, but that movie fumbled its sure-thing formula — in part by making her character someone things happened to, rather than a hero who made things happen. But since she was so very good in Selena and in Out of Sight, I think she deserves another shot at the Cinderella hotel maid role.