Lawyer Michael Cohen, left, lawyer Rob DeGregory, centre, and NHLPA director of operarions Alex Dagg speak to reporters as they arrive at the Quebec Labour Relations Board in Montreal, Friday, September 14, 2012, in a bid to prevent the NHL and Montreal Canadiens hockey club from imposing a lockout on the club’s players.
Photograph by: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL - The NHL players’ association lost Round 1 at Quebec’s labour relations board on Friday but the substance of the case has yet to be decided.
Judge Andrée St-Georges from the Commission des relations du travail rejected a request from the NHLPA and 16 Montreal Canadiens players for a provisional order to try to prevent the team from locking out its players when their collective agreement expires on Saturday at midnight.
But in the same terse decision, St-Georges also advised both sides that they will be convened by the commission for a hearing on the merits of the question.
The NHLPA and Canadiens players want the labour relations board to declare that a lockout by the NHL and Montreal Canadiens hockey club would be illegal under Quebec’s labour code — and to order them to refrain from taking such action against the team’s players.
They filed their application with the board earlier this week. Their position is that an employer in Quebec cannot lock out employees unless they belong to a union that is certified by the province’s labour relations board, which isn’t the case with the NHLPA.
In a statement Friday night, Don Zavelo, the NHLPA’s general counsel, said the association was pleased with the ruling. “While the commission denied the players’ request for emergency relief, it also rejected the NHL’s request to dismiss the case. The ruling acknowledges that the players have raised issues about the legality of the NHL’s planned lockout that require a full hearing on the merits.”
“We remain confident that the lockout is prohibited by the Quebec Labour Code and look forward to presenting our case to the commission in the near future. Should the NHL carry out its threat to lock out the players in Quebec, it will do so at its own risk,” Zavelo concluded.
Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, said in a statement: “We are pleased but not surprised with the Quebec Labour Board’s ruling tonight that any lockout of players will be effective on a League-wide basis, including in Quebec, and we are extremely appreciative of the expeditious and decisive manner in which the matter was handled.”
“We are hopeful that this ruling will cause the Players’ Association to cease pursuing these needless distractions and instead focus all of its efforts and energies on making progress at the bargaining table,” Daly added.
At the emergency hearing on Friday, the administrative tribunal heard about five hours of legal arguments. Lawyers for the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and the NHL noted the players’ association has negotiated with the league for 45 years under the National Labor Relations Act in the United States.
Their main argument is that Quebec’s labour code doesn’t apply to the case, lawyer Gary Rosen said.
An affidavit from Daly noted that during the 2004-05 lockout neither the players then under contract with the Canadiens or the NHLPA alleged that the lockout was “contrary and or unlawful” under Quebec’s labour code nor were any proceedings launched. Daly made a similar charge about the lockout in the 1994-95 season.
Michael Cohen, a lawyer for the NHLPA, said the commission must exercise its role and intervene.
Before the hearing, Alexandra Dagg, director of operations at the NHLPA, said the issue isn’t focusing on ensuring that players get paid. “The players want to play. They don’t want to have a lockout.”
“What we are trying to ensure is that the NHL can’t just continue to ram a lockout down on the players across Canada and the United States," she said.
The players’ association plans further action to try to prevent a lockout. It filed a similar application in Alberta late Thursday where it will argue that a lockout in that province also is illegal. The NHL and clubs filed a petition on Friday to try to get the Alberta case dismissed, Dagg said.
The players’ association is looking at other jurisdictions as well for similar action, Dagg said.
“We’re currently looking at Manitoba and British Columbia as well.”
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