SBJ/July 17 - 23, 2006/This Weeks News

NLRB backs claim against NHLPA

The National Labor Relations Board says that there’s enough evidence to charge the NHL Players’ Association with violating federal labor laws but that it won’t take that step unless settlement talks fail between the union and a group of dissident players.

NHLPA Executive Director Ted Saskin calls
debate “a complete non-issue.”
A group of more than 50 NHL players contacted the NLRB last year to complain that the hockey union had refused to provide players with copies of side letters of the NHL collective-bargaining agreement. Side letters are addendums that clarify or expand upon details in the body of the agreement.

By authorizing a complaint against the union, the NLRB served notice that if the union doesn’t settle the dispute, the NLRB is ready to issue a formal complaint that would compel the union to defend itself in court.

“The general counsel (of the NLRB) has decided to authorize the issuance of a complaint alleging the NHLPA violated the National Labor Relations Act by not providing certain side letters to players, side letters that are incorporated in the collective-bargaining agreement,” said Don Zavelo, deputy regional attorney in the New York NLRB office. “No complaint has been issued. It is our policy to always engage the parties in settlement negotiations before we issue a complaint that has been authorized.”

Detroit Red Wings player Chris Chelios, one of the leaders of a group of players that brought the complaint to the NLRB, said that he felt vindicated by the board’s decision. “I think it shows there is obviously something there,” Chelios said. “It’s not just a player thing. The NLRB investigated and found evidence that (NHLPA Executive Director Ted Saskin) may or may not have done something wrong.”

Saskin posted some of the side letters on the union Web site last year, after an agent and some players raised concern about the letters, including one that pledged union money to the NHL if the player salary escrow was not sufficient to bring the amount of money paid to players to 54 percent, as is required by the CBA.

Saskin could not be reached for comment. In a statement, he said, “I’ve reviewed all of these letters with the players. Not one player can think of any reason why they should be public. I am very confident this is a complete non-issue for our members.’’

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