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NHL Labour Woes

NHLPA's labour board tactic draws sharp retort from league

By Chris Stevenson, Special to Postmedia Network

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency file photo)

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency file photo)

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The players association and the NHL are talking, just not to each other.

With the clock ticking down to a lockout at midnight Saturday, the dialogue now is about the union going to provincial labour boards in Alberta and Quebec, challenging the NHL's right to inflict a lockout on the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was on his way Monday to Alberta to deal with the challenge there in a hearing Tuesday morning when he e-mailed QMI Agency.

"I wish the PA was spending as much time trying to reach an agreement with us, as they are apparently spending to initiate ancillary battles that at the end of the day will have no impact whatsoever on the deal we end up negotiating," he wrote.

The players are entitled to their rights under the labour laws in their various jurisdictions. The union is doing what unions do in these situations and that is to take the fight to management on as many fronts as possible.

But the benefits of winning such challenges, as Daly pointed out, make you wonder what impact they could have on the overall process.

So, if the Flames, Oilers or Canadiens are successful in their challenges and a labour board decides they can't be locked out by the teams ... OK, where to from there?

There won't be anybody for them to play.

Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon he believed if the NHLPA were to get a favourable ruling in Quebec, the Montreal players would continue to draw their salaries while other teams would be locked out.

Is that solidarity?

"First and foremost, I have to let you know that we're not doing this so that players in Montreal can get a salary," Gorges said. "The reason we are doing this is to try to put pressure on the owners' side of things to get a deal done and to allow us to train and have training camp and get ready to play even if we haven't reached an agreement. That's the most important thing.

"Other players might be disappointed we're getting a salary and they're not, but again, that's not our point in doing this. It's to show we're willing to play, we want to play and we're going to do everything we can to get ourselves playing until we reach an agreement."

The players' argument as far as Quebec goes is because the NHLPA is not certified as a union in that province and since non-unionized employees in Quebec can't be locked out, the Canadiens can't be locked out.

In Alberta, the law says a mediator must be appointed before employees legally be locked out.

"The importance of this is to show we want to play," Gorges said. "We want to keep playing until we reach a deal. There's no law that says we can't keep playing and keep preparing ourselves to play while we negotiate on a new CBA. I know it's only three teams, but it may put pressure on other teams that say, you know what? Those guys are practising, they're getting ready to play maybe we should have our players doing the same sort of thing. It's unfortunate it's not the same laws in every city."

I think that's flawed thinking on the players' part. The other owners are going to be worried about the Habs practising? Not likely. Gorges also said he expected that given a favourable ruling, the Habs coaches could join in the workouts. Again, can't see that happening or the owners allowing that to happen.

You might think if the Habs had to pay their players during a lockout, that would give the Canadiens incentive to put pressure on the league to come to an agreement. But if the Canadiens players aren't recognized as being unionized, what's to stop the Habs from laying them off along with the hotdog vendors, ticket-takers and the rest of the support staff when there are no games to be played?

CBA negotiations are all about leverage and it's tough to see how favourable rulings before the labour boards in the case of the NHL vs. Players will move the puck closer to the net.

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