In what is certainly an interesting, yet not entirely unsurprising, development in the ongoing CBA negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA the players from the Montreal Canadiens have served the league with a cease and desist letter -- citing Quebec labor laws.
The issue at hand is that the league has stated it will lockout the union on Sept. 15 if a new agreement is not reached by that date. The players have stated, time and again, that they are more than willing to continue playing this season while negotiations continue toward a new agreement. The issue at hand, apparently, is the fact that in Quebec the NHLPA is not a union and according to the Quebec Labour Board employers can only lockout players represented by a union.
At issue, according to the NHLPA, is that the players' union is not a group certified by the Quebec Labour Board. The NHLPA adds that, under Quebec law, an employer - the Canadiens, in this case - cannot lock out employees - Habs players, in this case - unless they are represented by a union certified by the QLB.
The Canadiens players, the NHLPA said Sunday night, have the right to apply to the QLB for an order that would prevent Canadiens ownership from locking players out after Sept. 15, when the CBA expires.
The Montreal Canadiens players served a 'cease and desist' letter to the owners of the team and the NHL on Friday. The letter states that unless threats of a lockout are ceased that an application will be made to the Quebec Labour Board to stop the Canadiens from lockout out the players.
Said player representative Erik Cole:
"The players are committed to reaching a fair deal with the NHL owners through CBA negotiations and we have told the NHL that the players are willing to continue to negotiate if an agreement isn't reached prior to the expiration of the CBA.
"The NHL seems content to lock out the players if an agreement isn't reached this week, and we would like the Quebec Labor Board to step in and inform them that their lockout would be in direct violation of the Quebec labor laws."
What's throwing an even more interesting twist on this is the apparent news that when the NHLPA attempted to be certified by the QLB in 2005, but the NHL opposed this measure. The NHLPA has not attempted to apply since then.
The rules surrounding the ability of a company, in this case the NHL, to lockout their employers are extremely detailed and certain measures must be taken to ensure the legalities of such an action. Because of the location of the franchises in North America, the league has had to take steps to ensure teams in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec can legally lockout the players.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour has agreed with the NHL in this matter, with the Alberta Labour Relations Board and Quebec Labour Board still needing to make decisions.
Bill Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner, called this measure a "distraction" and that, "We will do what's legally appropriate."
All of this is essentially the expected mess that results when a league decides to lockout the players. The NFL last year witnessed the same events, as both sides scramble to gain as much leverage as the can in the ongoing negotiations. It's a game of public relations, not just legalities, with each side attempting to come out as the "good guy" to the fans and the media.
It's apparent now that the NHL is losing the PR battle in the current negotiations, when the last lockout painted the players are greedy and unwilling to accept a reasonable offer. The league has touted it's soaring revenues for a few years now and suddenly when it comes time to demand another pay cut for the players, the NHL is suddenly adamant the league is losing money and cannot sustain the current system.
With Donald Fehr now representing the NHLPA, who have suddenly shown solidarity and a willingness to stick to their proposals, the NHL is facing a much different animal than they did in 2004-05. The NHLPA is going to take as many measures as possible to prevent a lockout, even if they are in the end useless, because that furthers the narrative that it is the league preventing the season from happening and not the players.
What the players need to understand is that there is going to have to be compromise on their side as well. No other sports league in North America has the players earning anything close to 57% of revenues, however they might be defined. With the NHL earning the least of the "big four," it stands to reason that the players would not have the highest salaries of the four -- that is not the case, however.
The NHL and the NHLPA are set to meet separately this week in anticipation of the upcoming lockout on Sept. 15. Fehr and Gary Bettman have been meeting informally the past three days, yet no formal negotiations have yet to be scheduled for this week.
As it stands, the two sides are worlds apart on some very fundamental principles of how the NHL should be operated. We'll examine those principles, and the nature of these negotiations themselves, tomorrow.