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CHLPA Possible US Based Anti Trust Issues

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CHLPA Possible US Based Anti Trust Issues September 24, 2012 9:49 AM

The Canadian Hockey League Players Association may be setting themselves up to take legal action against the Canadian Hockey League. TJHN obtained a legal opinion over the weekend outlining a potential action and the basis for that action in the United States. Opinions, can and often do result in legal action, they are usually the precursor, or the "informal notice" that someone is preparing for litigation and that before it happens "you may want to sit down and talk".

Roughly two hundred players on the CHL’s eight United States based teams have may have grounds for an anti-trust lawsuit against the league. In an opinion said to have been written by Willig Williams & Davidson, the firm has advised the CHLPA that the league’s eight U.S. teams are in breach of American law prohibiting anti-competitive business practices. The eight U.S. teams are the Everett Silvertips (in Washington state), Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs, Tri-State Americans (in Washington state), Erie Otters, Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit (both in Michigan).

“It seems abundantly clear that league-wide restrictions which set compensation scales, bonuses, and other remuneration without any reliance on the market constitutes an unreasonable restraint on trade,” the opinion goes on to say, “It is clear that the CHL, its member leagues, and member teams have restricted trade with respect to its players and has done so unreasonably.”

The CHL’s 1,300 players earn as little as $35 a week and sometimes as much as $500, though that is an un-official payment. Unlike the NHL, where each player negotiates his contract individually, the value of their services is uniformly set across all three CHL member leagues.

The written opinion, focuses on the CHL’s Standard Player Agreements. The contracts contain identical terms and conditions of employment regardless of skill level or experience and give teams control over their entire CHL careers. Payments to CHL players in all three leagues are set at $35 per week for 16- and 17-year-olds, $50 for 18-year-olds, $60 for 19-year-olds and $125 at age 20.

When the CHLPA story was first written by TJHN in August, David Branch from the OHL issued a public statement saying, “No junior hockey league in the world has made more changes to support the best interest of its players both on and off the ice as the CHL. This is evidenced by our drug education and anti-doping program, our concussion management program, numerous charitable programs and our Respect in Sport program as developed by Sheldon Kennedy in the area of player abuse.”

There are payments made to players for playoff victories, a modest travel allowance and an “education package” providing between $7,000 and $10,000 a year for tuition, books and fees. "Development" money is also provided to some players to cover the costs of off season training. The education money is largely determined on where a player is drafted in the three leagues drafts, and by how many years a player is an active participant within a league.

While most of this is not new information, contracts are openly shared by players when they are signed, the twist is attacking those agreements from the United States.

Organized Labor in the United States, is long on tradition, and strong in its previous anti trust victories. Organized Labor in the United States is not something that people that have not reached the age of majority, 18, are traditionally allowed to participate in. Under the law, those under the age of 18 are not seen as being able to make qualified and educated decisions. Right or wrong, players under 18 in the United States would most likely not be able to sign for a Union Membership.

Parents of players in the United States are required to sign contracts with or for their children.

Would the United States anti trust laws allow parents to make "third party" agreements that bind their children to a Union Membership? Courts in the United States have been very clear in ruling that third party contracts without the bound party completely understanding the agreement being bound to are not to be enforced.

The CHLPA’s apparent look at action in the United States is also interesting from the standpoint that most of the teams in the CHL are based in Canada. Taking or starting the fight in the United States where labor certification could be more easily obtained could help the CHLPA establish precident that could eventually be recognized in Canada.

One person speaking off the record suggested that in the United States, the CHLPA could become a branch of an already well established Union. Though no specific union was named, it is not uncommon for unions in the United States to represent several classes of workers. The Teamsters for example represent more than 1.4 million members in virtually every job, from airline pilots to zookeepers.

Clearly the CHLPA has not gone quietly into the night and the CHL may have just received its first real shot over the bow.

By Joseph Kolodziej

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