SBJ/October 28 - November 3, 2002/Labor Agents

Hockey tax dispute in hands of arbitrator

The NHL didn't bother to present a case in an arbitration hearing last week regarding a player payroll tax in the Canadian province of Alberta, saying that the union's grievance has so little merit that it didn't require a rebuttal.

The NHL's senior vice president and chief legal officer, Bill Daly, said the union did not demonstrate any wrongdoing on the part of the league at a hearing in Chicago last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Daly said it was the first time he's aware of that the NHL didn't present a case in an arbitration hearing between the league and the NHL Players' Association.

"I felt all along this case was specious at best," Daly said.

The dispute centers on Alberta levying a tax against all NHL players competing in the province, visiting players as well as members of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. The money generated by that tax, which went into effect this season and will raise an estimated $4 million a year, will be redirected back to the teams.

The union said the tax circumvented the league's collective-bargaining agreement.

Daly said that for the case to be decided in the union's favor, there would have to be evidence that the league was at fault. Daly said organizations always have the right to seek assistance or legislation from the government. But in this case, he said, that wasn't even the case because neither the league nor the teams ever lobbied the Alberta government for the money.

"The factual matter is the Alberta legislature enacted something we didn't ask for," Daly said.

One thing brought up during the hearing, Daly said, is the fact that player taxes that generate revenue directly for teams or related entities are not unusual. They exist in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Arizona and Massachusetts, he said, where they have been used to reduce teams' lease obligations or to pay off the costs of facilities.

Arbitrator Joan Parker is supposed to issue a decision on the case within 30 days, though she could ask for more time.

NHLPA officials were not available for comment.

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