By Rob Ficiur
During the European Industrial revolution people flooded to the cities to get factory jobs in terrible working conditions. Workers put in long hours and received minimal pay with no benefits. Factory owners knew that the workers could easily be replaced if they demanded more money.
In recent weeks two “Economic Slaves” in the world wide sporting community have come to a cross roads and hope that changes can be made to ensure their workers are compensated properly.
NCAA sports is big business in the United States; bringing in about $71 billion colleges. While there are expenses in their programs, the NCAA avoid the largest expense that haunt professional sports because the NCAA pays their athletes zero ($0) dollars for playing. Athletes compete with the hope that once they will sign professional contracts and make more in a year than most of us will in several life times.
In the meantime NCAA athletes must find other ways to make money while in college. NCAA rules do not allow special gifts of money or merchandising opportunities to increase athlete’s income. During their college years, the average NCAA “Slave Athlete” bring in $375 000 for basketball and $178 000 per athlete for football.
Changes are coming that will help NCAA athletes get through the school years. Rules passed in 2009 allowed schools to provide snacks such as bagels, fruits and nuts to athletes. However, schools were prohibited to buy meals for their players. Now that has changed. NCAA teams can now provide meals for their underpaid athletes. Next year athletes can have the previously forbidden cream cheese with their bagel. Cream cheese is not a code word for an illegal substance. Cream cheese was considered to be have moved a bagel from the snack category into a meal. Now that teams can pay for player’s meals, athletes can go all out and eat a full meal at the team’s expense.
The NCAA is light years away from paying College Athletes for their services. Nor are the masses demanding millions in salaries for these college athletes. For the majority of college players who never make big money in the pros, cream cheese on their bagel may be the only improvement to their basic needs they will see in their college career.
Across the world the Sherpas of Tibet have gone on an impromptu strike that has crippled the country’s $100 million Mt. Everest Tourism industry. After the death of sixteen Sherpa guides in an avalanche, the remaining 400 climbing guides walked away from the 2014 Everest Hiking Season. The Sherpas are not like professional referees who can be replaced minor league referees. These natives of Tibet are the seasoned guides who carry the bulk of climber’s supplies to the base of Mt. Everest. In the month before the 2014 climbing season, no one on Earth can train their bodies and acclimatize their system to the high altitude of the world’s largest mountain.
The average climber pays about $75,000 to attempt to hike to the top of Mt. Everest. The average Sherpa makes about $5000 per year helping the elite get to the top of the world. While $5000 a year is ten times the average wage of most people in Nepal ($500 per year). The final straw came when families of the dead were offered about $415 in a life insurance type death benefit.
Unlike most strikes labor disputes a simple solution could (and may yet be) found to this before the Sherpas took their packs and went home. One report said that the Sherpas were asking for 30% of all climbers’ fees be put into a fund that will go towards supporting those injured. They are also calling for insurance pay-outs of $20,000 dollars for every Sherpa that dies on the mountain. At some point a re-negotiated wage and life insurance contract will be worked out for the Sherpas.
Deaths on Mt. Everest are not staggering by numbers. In the last sixty years about 250 people have died trying to summit Mt. Everest. Of this number 83 have been Nepalese Sherpas. In 2012 and 2013 seven of the eighteen deaths on Everest were Nepalese Sherpas. At one level the Sherpas are asking for is compensation to the families of those who lost a loved one. While money won’t bring them back, the rich of the world could provide money to replace the income that the families will have lost with the deaths.
If elite climbers of the world are willing to pay $75,000 per year to climb Everest, then charging them 10% more to help better compensate those who risk life and limb seems both reasonable and affordable. If a deal is not reached within a week, 2014 might be the first year since 1987 when no one summits Mt. Everest, because the guides who know the trails the best, have put their life ahead of their need for money.
Had the Sherpa strike been a premeditated job action by unionized workers, labor negotiators from around the globe would have provided mediation in exchange for a free trip to the top of the world; and the Sherpa walkout would have been averted. This walk out was inspired by grief and loss, not dollars.