Canadian Major Junior Players Forming Labor Union

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Canadian Major Junior Players Forming Labor Union August 17, 2012 2:05 PM

It is amazing what you can learn when you sit in close quarters with hockey players. Even more amazing is how freely some people talk about things they shouldnt, when they dont know who the person is sitting next to them. Whats more shocking is when they answer questions not knowing who they are providing information to.

This is exactly how I stumbled upon what I think could be a game altering story for Junior Hockey Players, Teams and Leagues.

The debate in the United States has been raging for years. Should Major Junior players be allower to play NCAA hockey? The NCAA has made it clear they can not, and now players within each of the three Major Junior Hockey Leagues are making that choice more clear.

Creation of a Players Union would forever change the junior hockey landscape, and it appears that change is taking place.

Like the NHL and the National Hockey League Players Association, the Western Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League may now have a unionized work force and collective bargaining to contend with. Collective bargaining and the unionization of Major Junior Hockey across Canada woould make it clear that the big three Major Junior leagues would forever be considered professional hockey leagues.

This distinction would forever bar any type of working agreement or compromise with the NCAA in the future. Hockey fans that have long dreamt of a compromise with the NCAA may now want to put those dreams on hold.

The organization of the Union in each of the three leagues has been said to have taken place in secret over the summer. Players have been said to have attended meetings in hotels and other neutral locations to ratify proposals made by third party labor organizers. Scenes from the movie Hoffa played out in real life with real people in the 21st Century?

Named the Canadian Hockey League Players Association, the CHLPA plan is aggressive and far reaching in its scope to develop, assist, promote and cultivate players before, during and after their Major Junior careers. Education funding, is just the tip of the iceberg, and team owners have no clue until today that this is even taking place.

The domain name has been registered through through a private domain name purchaser. The domain was purchased on July 31st, 2012. No email or contact information was listed for any person or organization involved.

The latest organizational meeting took place two weeks ago at 1:00 PM, Friday August 3rd at the Airport Marriott Hotel in Mississauga Ontario. A small group of players aged 18 and older are said to have gathered and ratified the formation of the CHLPA for OHL players. The WHL and QMJHL players having already met earlier in the summer are also said to have ratified the union formation.

Sources have said that several people attended the meeting along with Sandra Slater; President SRS consulting, Lambros Piscopos; President Eterna Investment management, and Andrew Raven LLP. When researching Andrew Raven, one was found in Ontario practicing law, when contacted via email Mr. Raven stated;

“Mr. Kelly,

This is to advise you that my firm is not, and has not been, retained as legal counsel for the CHLPA. Furthermore, I have no authority to speak on behalf of the CHLPA generally or in response to the questions you have raised.

Andrew Raven”

TJHN has attempted to reach those other persons that participated for comment and all but Sandra Slater have refused to make comment at this time.

When speaking to Ms. Slater I asked the following:

KK – Why has the formation of the CHLPA been kept a secret, and how has it been able to be kept secret for so long?

SS – “Players are involved and protecting them from actions of others is why we have kept this quiet as long as possible. Players need to be protected at every tunr and we want to make sure that happens.”

KK – Have players voted and ratified the union?

SS – “Yes, the players have voted in the union on August 9, 2012. All officers are now in place. This has been in process for well over a year.”

KK – How do the union members see the leagues reacting to this news?

SS – “It all depends on how they view things.”

KK – Who will be leading the union from a non player standpoint?

SS – “I can not say anything officially at this time.”

KK – How would the proposed union deal with players who have not reached the age of majority?

SS – “All players wil be equally represented.”

Key to the Unions funding proposals to the three Major Junior leagues will be a new ticket surcharge of $1.50 per ticket sold for every game in all three leagues. With an average attendance throughout Major Junior Hockey of 4000 fans per game, this would result in the CHLPA raising a minimum of 12 Million Dollars in its first year on ticket sales alone. This surchage is specifically designed to improve Educational benefits for players.

Also on the table for the CHLPA is a percentage of all Merchandising sales. This is the big piece of the pie for the CHLPA. In a document obtained through a player participating in the ratification the income sources for CHLPA funding will be broken down like this:

CHL Jersey Sales 10% of all junior team sales estimated revenue $236,000.00

CHL Baseball cap Sales 10% of all junior team sales estimated revenue $147,500.00

CHL Concessions 3% of all junior team net concession profits estimated revenue $1,280,000.00

CHL Ticket Sales 10% of all junior team sales estimated revenue $14,771,538.00

CHL Surcharge for education packages $12,300,000.00

Total Revenues to be generated and collected by the CHLPA from the CHL $28,700,000.00

Critical to keep in mind is that revenues generated by trading cards, video games, TV rights, and Hockey Canadas sponsorship groups are not readily available, it is known that these are significant revenue generating sources for all Major Junior Teams. It has been reported that the CHLPA is using a $45.00 per person concession spending amount as their target for calculating income, the same number used by the NHL.

TV rights would include but not be limited too World Junior Championships, Memorial Cup Championships, and all Major Junior League Playoff games. Commercial rights to those games are estimated to be in the Millions of Dollars.

Twenty Eight Million Dollars before certain big ticket revenue items are added to the equation! Its easy to see that the amount of money at stake is no small chunk of change. Those kinds of dollars are life changing amounts for players and their families, not to mention Union Directors and Organizers.

How will the money be spent or allocated?

Educational funding will be increased across the board for all CHLPA players. Proposed increases per player will average $9,000.00 per season. Education packages currently vary from player to player, the CHLPA would propose to standardize those packages. Would Teams then be off the hook for their contributions and current contractual obligations to players for their education packages? Or would these monies be in addition to those packages? That has yet to be made clear.

Entrepreneurial funding has also been rumored to be a part of the CHLPA plan. According to one source, discussions of creating a fund to help players start businesses after hockey is a key component. It was unclear if the CHLPA would provide loans or grants to assist in funding those projects, or what the approval process may be to participate.

If the formation of the CHLPA actually takes place and the players gain some modicum of control over the revenues they generate many questions would have to be answered.

How can players that have not reached the age of legal majority (18), be allowed to make a decision on joining a labor union? Are parents of these under age players allowed to bind those players to third party contracts of which they may not be able to understand? Could those under age player be excluded from joining the union? If they were excluded would those potential benefits be held in an escrow type account for when the player reaches legal age? What if upon the players 18th birthday they decide that the agreement made by their parents is not one they would have chosen to sign, and could they then be reinstated as amateur players? Can current players that are under age be said to have a full and complete understanding of the contracts they have already signed?

Would Canadian Labor Law then preclude players who are not 18 from playing in the league? What if players under 18 begin to say they did not completely understand the ramifications of playing Major Junior Hockey as it relates to their amateur status?

How would the Unionization of Canadian Major Junior Hockey then effect any proposed development agreement with the NHL? Would the NHL then be forced to bargain with the NHLPA and CHLPA? Would owners of Major Junior teams be able to make any proposals to the NHL without CHLPA consent?

Would the CHLPA also have input into how drafts in all three leagues are operated?

Assuming the CHLPA is completely organized, and the member players make these revenue sharing demands, is a player strike possible if those demands are not met by team owners? With the potential for an NHL lockout looming, what would the Canadian hockey lanscape look like if there was no Major Junior Hockey being played at the same time. Would those unionized players then be able to play in other leagues during a work stoppage?

One would also have to assume that some provisions would also have to be developed for European and United States Citizens playing Major Junior hockey concerning Union Membership and benefit distribution. Would those provisions require approval from the International Ice Hockey Federation? Would international transfer fee’s be effected?

What if any effect would such a Union have on Hockey Canada and USA Hockey?

IF the Union is formed, will the owners of Major Junior Teams immediately recognize the body? If not, will they lock players out from competition? Would players cross union lines if the owners do not recognize the body in order to play? The risk of missing out on resume building games for these players could place NHL draft positioning at risk.

Would hockey player agents be able to negotiate levels of pay for players in this union? If so, will a wage scale be a part of a proposal?

Would Major Junior Teams be profitable if revenue sharing is introduced? Could teams fold, or opt to join non unionized leagues?

The bottom line is simple;

Merriam Webster Dictionary describes a Labor Union as “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions”.

In Canada, employment laws related to unionized workplaces are differentiated from those relating to particular individuals. The Canada Labour Code is an Act of Parliament of the Canadian government to consolidate certain statutes respecting labour. The objective of the code is to facilitate production by controlling strikes & lockouts, occupational safety and health, and some employment standards. What does the Labour Code cover?

Part One Industrial Relations:

This part of the act is divided into seven divisions and deals with collective bargaining, dispute resolution, strikes and lockouts. It, first of all, establishes basic freedoms, in accordance with Convention C87 of the International Labour Organization, by setting out that employees are “free to join the trade union of their choice and to participate in its lawful activities” [s.8(1)] and employers, likewise, are free to organize.

Part Two Occupational Health and Safety

This part of the act deals with maintaining the health and safety of workers in the workplace. It focuses on the recognition and prevention of hazards. The beginning of this part states the purpose here “is to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of employment.” [s.122.1]

Part Three Employment Standards Act

The third part of the code is divided into 16 divisions which deal with terms and conditions of employment concerning hours, wages, leave, holidays, and sexual harassment. It also sets the conditions for the termination of employment.

How this Union would fit into these laws is yet unclear. One obvious obsticle would be the termination of employment. How do teams cut players who no longer fit into their plans? Are they on the hook for benefits? If so, for how long? Would a full severence package be developed?

When looking at the big picture, it becomes clear that there are a lot more questions than there are answers. One thing that is obvious, the CHLPA believes they are protecting the players and acting in their best interests. When coming from a standpoint of protection, clearly you can never be too protective of young athletes as they grow into young men.

Kevin Kelly

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