Although players in the Canadian Hockey League have lost out in their bid to become paid employees on their teams because of the settlement of a class action lawsuit they launched in 2014, I think there is still one avenue left to them.
They can file a human rights complaint against their present classification as amateur athletes.
Players in the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League can put in long hours playing three games a week, many requiring travel far from their home base, practices, training and participating in team promotional activities.
For this they can get post-secondary education, how much depends on how much time they spend in their league, and living and out-of-pocket expenses, but no actual pay, all while toiling for for-profit operations in which everyone else receives an actual pay cheque.
Somehow this doesn’t seem right.
I know I am coming late to the party, having watched the Hounds on and off for 50 years and on a regular basis for the past 25 without giving any thought to what the players get in the way of remuneration, but I am there now.
I think something still should be done to improve the lot of the players, who just lost pretty well all their rights in settling for $30 million in a $180 million lawsuit tjey launched in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta on behalf of about 3,600 current and former players who competed in the CHL between 2014 and 2019.
Because the governments of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, which obviously didn’t see the incongruity in unpaid players being the life blood of a for-profit operation, declared legislatively that major junior hockey players were not employees within the meaning of the applicable employment standards acts, the players’ lawyers were pretty well forced to accept that there was “now no legally recognized obligation for owners to treat players as employees.”
Which, the way I look at it, is to allow, at the worst a legalized form of slavery, at the best a form of indentured servitude..
Think about it.
Junior players signing with a team become that team’s property. They cannot just quit their job and go elsewhere. They have to ask for a trade and hope to get it. Their only alternative is to sit out and naturally few, hoping for a future in pro ranks, opt for that route.
This is exactly how it is done in professional hockey, except there the players get paid.
David Branch, President of the CHL and commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League, in a letter seeking the backing of the Ontario government, said if players were paid the $14 hourly minimum for a 40-hour work week over an eight-month season, it would cost the OHL about $8 million a year.
Speaking as a fan, I wouldn’t mind paying two or three bucks more a game if it would allow the players to become employees and get minimum wage.
With a team that averages at least 3,500 fans a game, a $2 increase over 34 home games would bring in $7000 a game, $238,000 over the season. Multiply that by the 20 teams in the OHL and you come out with a pretty lofty figure, $4,760,000.
That is well over half of the $8 million Branch forecasts the move to pay players the minimum would cost..
How do you get the rest?
I would suggest it come from the National Hockey League.
After all, where would the NHL be without major junior hockey. This is where a great many of its future stars are developed.
The hockey is so good in major junior that some of its stars go into the NHL with still a year of junior left and others get there after a short stint in the American Hockey League.
I gather the NHL kicks in now but I was unable to find out how much. Whatever, I think it should be able to come up with the $12 million or so required to cover all teams in the CHL, considering the benefits it gets.
Branch said going to a minimum wage would put some teams out of business but it is obvious he said this without looking into ways it could be done.
Rick Westhead of TSN back in 2017 produced information from an affidavit in which Denise Burke, owner and president of the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, testified that paying a minimum wage would mean the club “would be left facing a financial catastrope.”
Westhead said the affidavit showed that in the fiscal year ending May 31, 2014, the IceDogs generated $2.8 million in revenue, resulting in a loss of $103,093.
But months later, the team left the 3,100-seat Jack Gatecliff Arena and moved into a new home rink, the 5,300-seat Meridian Centre in St. Catharines. That move led to a 50 per cent increase in revenue, from $2.8 million in 2014 to $4.2 million in 2015 and a profit of $438,679.
He said the IceDogs’ revenue climbed to $4.6 million in 2016, generating a profit of $643,544, even after paying $182,221 toward player education scholarships.
The IceDogs paid $300,000 in dividends to their owners in 2016 and spent $649,688 on wages and benefits for their hockey department, the team reported. Another $415,980 was spent on wages and benefits for other club staff.
But again, nothing to the players, the ones we fans pay to see.
I find it more than passing strange that governments would side with the CHL to maintain the status quo, thus keeping the players in servitude, rather than acknowledging that they are the reason for the success of these businesses and therefore should get paid.