Class action lawsuit filed against Canadian Hockey League

You knew it was going to happen at some point in time.  It was inevitable after the CHLPA failed to launch roughly two years ago.  While CHLPA efforts remain underway, the immediate implementation of reform was not achieved.

Now, in an unprecedented move, former CHL players lead by Sam Berg have filed a class action lawsuit striking at the economic foundations of junior hockey in Canada.  The suit alleges the Canadian Hockey League and its teams “conspired” to force young players into signing contracts that breach minimum wage laws.

A claim filed in a Toronto court Friday, seeks $180 million in outstanding wages, vacation, holiday and overtime pay and employer payroll contributions for thousands of young players given as little as $35 a week for practices, games, training and travelling that could add up to more than full-time hours.

The suit alleges that the CHL and its teams “conspired and agreed together . . . to act in concert to demand or require that all players sign a contract which the defendants knew was unlawful,” and further alleges. “Such conduct was high-handed, outrageous, reckless, wanton, deliberate, callous, disgraceful, wilful and in complete disregard for the rights of the (players).”

While the suit has yet to be answered by the CHL, it is aware of it having been filed.  While the filing of a suit of this nature is sure to bring up issues that many would hope to have resolved through negotiation, the CHL has to this point refused to negotiate with UNIFOR who is managing the CHLPA movement, and to do so would lend more strength to this new set of claims.

The suit also claims the CHL’s teams are “unjustly enriched” with “hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues annually” based on the services provided by their young players.

The class action seeks an order requiring the leagues to “disgorge all profits that the (players) generated as a result of benefitting from breaches” of minimum wage legislation.

Sam Berg, the 18-year-old son of former Toronto Maple Leaf and long-time NHL player Bill Berg, is the primary plaintiff named in the claim.

In statements made to the local press, Berg says his teammates and friends talk about their role in metaphor: “A lot of us see it like OHL players are used like racing greyhounds. (The league and team owners) use us until they can’t anymore and then kick us to the side.”

Berg signed with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs in 2013 at a weekly pay of $50 for what amounted to between 32 and 44 hours a week during September and October of last year, the statement claims.

After being sent down to play in Junior B hockey, a shoulder injury ended his career.

He also claims that he later learned his mandatory playing contract was never forwarded to the OHL for approval while he was playing with the IceDogs.

It was later revised by the league, the statement alleges.

The suit further alleges that “Knowing that Sam was injured and could not play, the OHL approved the contract but reduced his tuition package from four years to half a year,”.

While a suit of this nature will surely take a long time to resolve itself, it may also add fuel to the UNIFOR fire as it seeks to organize the CHLPA.
To be sure though, many will question why there is so much smoke surrounding the CHL practices if there is no fire.

Joe Hughes

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