WASHINGTON DC – On Wednesday, June 20, American Rights at Work held its 8thannual Awards Ceremony at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, honoring recipients of their Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. Given to those who have helped champion workers’ rights as human rights, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith joined Bill Street of the IAM Woodworkers Department and Per-Olof Sjöö of the Swedish Union GS as recipients of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award for 2012.
Describing himself as “truly humbled” and feeling “very small” to receive the award, Smith was honored for his representation of NFL players during the 2011 NFL lockout and for his use of the high-profile labor conflict to draw parallels between working people and the professional athletes he represents.
With contemporaries in attendance such as Michael Weiner, the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and representatives of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Smith was introduced by Ford Field concession worker and UNITE HERE member John Marler. Upon receipt, Smith said that “I feel small today because I am surrounded by so many friends and so many people in the labor movement who I just truly love and respect, people who realize that this fight is about working people in America.”
At the outset of his acceptance speech, Smith thanked the people of the AFL-CIO and American Rights at Work “who took [me] under your wing” upon his election as NFLPA Executive Director in 2009. Though he initially described himself as a man “who knew very little about the labor movement,” Smith quickly realized that the 2011 labor battle was more than just a conflict between players and owners. In addition to protecting the health, safety and fair wages of NFL athletes, Smith also aimed to safeguard the livelihoods of thousands of stadium workers and business owners who depend on game-day revenue to make ends meet.
Kimberly Freeman Brown, the Executive Director of American Rights at Work, pointed out how Smith and the NFLPA “really made it known that the lockout would affect 150,000 workers who are just trying to make a living. At that time, this was right in the heart of the recession and [the lockout] would have had a devastating impact on the families of the stadium workers. The fact that he and the players could lift up all workers, that is exactly why [Smith] is here today.”
Brown elaborated further: “We need people particularly like De who are so willing to lend their personas to a cause that is bigger than themselves that real people will actually benefit from. We need people like them, we need the players, we need De to really continue to stand up as they have for the ushers, and the stadium workers, the janitors the nurses and the teachers and so we hope that they will continue to do that.”
With this award, Smith joins a very illustrious group of awardees that includes Ozzie Davis, Danny Glover, John-James Cromwell, Howard Zinn and Beth Shulman.
American Rights at Work is a non-profit labor organization that is dedicated to the protection and advancement of workers’ rights, as they organize and collectively bargain with their employers. Founded in 2003 by former Congressman David Bonior and Mary Beth Maxwell of the Department of Labor, ARAW has released multiple reports on the weakness of labor law and the countless violations of workers’ freedom of association. ARAW also works to highlight successful partnerships between workers, unions and employers with regard to labor-management issues.
by Tep Royster