SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Labor Agents

Dispute over efforts by NHL, players could resurface in testimony, lawyer says

The story of what really happened in the days surrounding the last-ditch weekend meeting that failed to save the NHL season may eventually come out in sworn testimony during future legal proceedings, labor law experts say.

“I think that if there is going to be a legal dispute about whether or not either side has bargained in good faith, what happened … will likely be a very important part of that dispute,” said Rick Albert, a lawyer in the Los Angeles office of Foley & Lardner who has represented employers, including Major League Baseball, in labor situations.

Last week, there appeared to be a real dispute between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association over what happened both during the meeting and in the days leading up to it. Stories continued to circulate that the NHL told players that it would agree to a $45 million salary cap before the meeting, then reneged on that promise. The league and Phoenix Coyotes owner Wayne Gretzky say that didn’t happen.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, meanwhile, during an interview with New York radio station KFAN, accused the NHLPA of engineering a “setup” and said league officials “realized that they had been had.” That drew an angry response from NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow, who said the remarks were “totally untrue” and a “false characterization of events.”

Bill Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, said deception by either party could lead to an unfair labor practices charge.

If the NHL was found to have bargained in bad faith, it could prevent the league from implementing its own labor system. Conversely, if the union committed bad-faith bargaining, it potentially could hurt its ability to strike if an impasse wee declared and a new system put in place, Gould said.

NHL and NHLPA representatives declined to comment on potential legal strategies.

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Hockey, Labor and Agents, NHL

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