Saturday, July 09, 2005

NHLPA Decertification?

The drumbeat for the movement is started, led in part by a Canuck fan who claims
"If all the NHLPA can do is concede on all issues, having a union is silly."
While they did concede on the biggest issue, they could in fact win more of the lesser issues in the form "better qualifying offers, better arbitration, better minimums, better pension, and better free agency" (Glenn Healy). And the rumored "New Deal" published by the LA Times says "No luxury tax, but revenue sharing through a complex formula under which the top 10 revenue-earning teams will give a percentage of their revenue to small-market teams." Sounds like something the NHLPA would love. I'd wait before claiming "all the NHLPA can do is concede on all issues." Then there's word that Phoenix Coyotes defenseman David Tanabe is uncertain that the new CBA will be ratified:
"I get a sense that everybody wants to play. Whether or not that means a new CBA gets done is still up for question. I still think that a deal needs to get done by the players' vote, and some are rumoring that it is 50/50 among the players as to whether or not it gets done by the player vote."
So what happens if the CBA is rejected by the players? Unless the sides can scramble to put together an agreement, the NHL would likely declare an impasse. Once the NHL declares an impasse (and it's a myth they need approval for this), the NHLPA likely would go to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and file a charge that the NHL was bargaining in bad faith all along. This would put a hold on NHL operations, and could mean up to two years of court cases (if appealed, and ultimately brought to the US Supreme Court). So even if the NHL declares and impasse and imposes its own terms of employment, lawsuits and appeals by the NHLPA could delay the start of a season (even with replacement players) for up to two years. Even if the NLRB rules in the NHL's favor, it's not over. The NHLPA could decertify itself and file anti-trust lawsuits against the owners, charging collusion in "establish[ing] rules, constraining the mobility of players from one club to another." The NHLPA would not be bound by the terms of the implemented CBA and it would be up to individual players whether to become replacement players. Or the NHLPA could just vote no on the new CBA and decertify itself immediately, which is what I think Tom Benjamin is getting at. He's under the assumption that it would automatically become a free market system, but it would just mean the NHL imposes its own employment rules and the players are accepting those by dissolving their union (unless they want to fight more and file lawsuits). Part of his argument is that the NHL salary will have to compete with European salaries, which is true but only to a certain extent. Whether young Canadians go overseas for their hockey careers is not a guarantee, even with a disparity in some salaries. The NHL would be a big enough revenue machine to keep salaries competitive, and players would stay for the competition in play. In all likelihood, European leagues would only be able to support one or two NHL-competitive salaries per team at best, so it wouldn't be an all out exodus. Then the TB argument turns to increasing player salaries as an average at the expense of NHLPA jobs:
"Cut the league in half - that's enough votes to decertify - and player salaries will soar even if the players are held by some miracle to 54% of the revenue...Under the proposed deal the players get 750 jobs at $1.22 million each. Let's suppose, they do decertify. Say six teams spend $75 million, 18 teams spend $30 million and six teams go out of business. The result - 600 jobs and $1.65 million ALS. Should the 600 best players subsidise the sad sack franchises and 150 other players by giving up $400,000 a year?"
I doubt enough players would back an effort at reducing franchises in the long run by continuing to drag this league through the mud and decertifying. The NHL has a lot of marginal players who would fear losing their jobs if indeed decertification meant contraction. 43.8% of players made less than $800,000 in 2003-2004, and it's not like a lot of us would notice if Krystofer Kolanos no longer played for the Coyotes. As a fan, it would be great to get the league down to 24 teams, assuming it increases the skill level and enjoyment for fans. But I don't think the players as a whole will be bold enough to decertify and risk losing all bargaining leverage as well as NHLPA member jobs when teams go bankrupt. They would have to live under an NHL-imposed system (which would be inevitably fixed in the owners' favor) and the hope for a free market system is likely not realistic when there isn't a league overseas that could compete with the NHL's revenue/salary projections (beyond an individual basis of signing one or two NHLers per team). Back in September, TB said "[Decertification is] the nuclear bomb in this dispute." True, it is a great threat mechanism - the threat of years of court cases is an excellent way to leverage the NHL. But are we really calling for bombs away when the negotiating process is likely done? After thousands of hours of negotiations and what Stan Fischler calls Bettman's own "War and Peace," it seems to be nothing but a sham tactic.


At 7/09/2005 02:16:00 PM, Blogger Christy Hammond said...


You do such an excellent job covering topics that aren't the top rumors or news...keep it up!

And Go Blue! I'm going to be a freshman there this upcoming year.

At 7/10/2005 12:57:00 AM, Blogger Brian List said...

Thanks Christy!

Cool, maybe I'll see you around campus. You should get UM hockey tickets in case the NHL doesn't get going, or if it sucks. I went to a few games last year and it was definitely worth it! GO BLUE!

At 7/10/2005 10:53:00 AM, Blogger Christy Hammond said...

Yeah I can't wait to get some of those hockey tickets...I heard they don't come out until September. Is that true? Thanks!

At 7/10/2005 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Brian List said...

They send an email to all the students on when it is, but it's usually the second week in September. It's easy to overlook it then because I've always said to myself "oh, I don't have time for all those games" but then I regret it a month later when things aren't as hectic.


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