Brings back a lot of memories, Mark, and none of them good.
The player's strike certainly had a profound impact on the sport of jai-alai. I think that fault lies on both sides, and in the end, everyone lost. But I also believe that the players were guided by emotion rather than reason, and they were largely to blame for what happened.
First of all, as far as I know, the players were under contract to play jai-alai, and they walked out on that contract. There was no long period of collective bargaining with the newly formed union that had failed. I believe the players thought that ownership could never replace them with amatuer players, and that was a big miscalculation. The flyer claims that ownership 'forced' the players to go on strike by unfair labor practices. Yet the only concrete example of an 'unfair labor practice' that is cited is management only having to give 30 days notice if a contract is not going to be renewed. No statistics are noted, however, as to how many of the 500 players did not have their contracts renewed. It is interesting to note that most American companies do not give their employees 30 days notice when they determine the employee's services are no longer required.
The players urge the fans not to cross a union picket line. However, only a few years earlier when the Bridgeport Jai-Alai mutual clerks went out on strike and had a picket line, the players crossed over and the games continued as scheduled. Many mutual clerks lost their job after that strike, and the ones that came back did so on management's terms.
The players say they made an unconditional offer to return to work. However, the offer was not unconditional, in fact, the condition was that the frontons take back every striking player. The frontons offered to take some back and keep the best playing replacement players. The Union refused, and it led to the longest strike in the history of American sports.
But beyond all this, I think the players' worst mistake was their conduct on the picket lines. The fans who had supported them so loyally over the years had their cars spit on. They were cursed at with some of the worst vulgarities you can imagine. The things that were said to women were repugnant and foul. In the beginning of that strike, it was a very bad experience for anyone to go through that picket line.
I think that at first, the fans supported the players. We all wished the strike would be resolved as quickly as possible. The quality of play by the replacement players was not good, although there were several American amatuer players that showed they could play the game. I honestly believe that the quality of the late games with replacement players at Bridgeport Jai-Alai was roughly equivalent to the quality of the early games before the strike.
As for the owners, they clearly felt that had to break the union. I believe they miscalculated that the public would be content with play that was entirely below the level to which they were accustomed. I think they let it go too far simply to prove that they could crush the union, and it's amazing how fast the fortunes of jai-alai went south after the strike. Could anyone in CT have imagined in 1988 that in just 7 years, both Brideport and Hartford Jai-Alai would be closed?
It's interesting to look back at this stuff, but realistically, it's only productive if something can be learned from it that might be useful in rebuilding the sport in 2005.