Six years later . . . if you were hoping for a clear-cut winner and loser, well, as Peggy Lee sang, “Is that all there is?”
The CHL and its leagues have agreed to pay $30 million to settle three class-action minimum wage-related lawsuits that were filed six years ago.
The suits were filed by former players against the three major junior leagues — the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League — that operate under the CHL umbrella. They later were certified as class action.
“This settlement does not mean that we agree with the plaintiffs,” the CHL said in a statement. “It means that we wanted to end the lawsuits so we could continue to focus on being the best development league in hockey.”
Ted Charney of Toronto-based Charney Lawyers PC, who was the lead for the plaintiffs, told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News: “This has been a very long, hard-fought battle, effectively gloves-off litigation for several years. We had to fight the (political) lobbying, which we lost miserably on, but we won in all the court rooms.”
The lawsuits were filed in 2014, with players claiming that the major junior teams are businesses and that players, as employees, should be eligible for minimum wages and overtime pay. The players also requested back pay.
While the lawsuits were before the court, the major junior leagues, which are of the belief that the players are student-athletes, lobbied various governments and were successful in gaining exemptions from minimum-wage laws.
As TSN’s Rick Westhead said in an on-air interview: “Over the last few years, the CHL has been very diligent about going to provinces and U.S. states where there are CHL teams and trying to successfully have minimum-wage laws amended so that players are exempt from minimum-wage legislation.”
In the west, governments in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Washington state all amended labour codes to provide exemptions. Oregon politicians chose not to provide an exemption.
According to the CHL and the plaintiffs, they agreed on a settlement in February with the help of a mediator.
“Earlier this year we met with the lawyers for the plaintiffs and agreed on a settlement that would see the end of the court case and an award of $30 million which will cover their lawyer’s fees, funder’s fees and other legal costs,” the CHL said in its statement. “The remainder will be distributed to players in the class. We did this because cases like these are very expensive and are a distraction to the league and as we had publicly disclosed, we had $30 million in insurance for these lawsuits.”
Lawyers are expected to get about $10 million off the top, with the remainder to be split among players. There are believed to be about 4,000 players who played from 2010-19 eligible to share in the money — players who have signed NHL contracts aren’t eligible — but it’s unlikely that all will apply.
It is believed that the CHL and its teams will pay half of the agreed-upon sum, with the CHL’s insurance paying the other half. Interestingly, the CHL purchases its insurance through Hockey Canada, which means that insurance premiums for the governing body of minor hockey in Canada are likely to rise. Those costs could be passed on to minor hockey players throughout the country.
If all 60 CHL teams are on the hook for a share of the payout, each will pay $250,000. But there are seven Americans teams involved, five of them in the WHL. If the American teams, which were exempted from the class action, aren’t required to pay, each of the remaining 52 teams would pay more than $288,000.
One of the five players who was in on the lawsuit from the beginning, Samuel Berg (Niagara IceDogs, OHL), is to receive a $20,000 honorarium. Each of the other four — Travis McEvoy (Saskatoon Blades, Vancouver Giants, Portland Winterhawks, WHL), Kyle O’Connor (Kootenay Ice, WHL), Thomas Gobeil (Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Val-d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL) and Lukas Walter (Tri-City Americans, WHL; Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL) — is to get $10,000.
As Westhead reported, with the amendments having been made to minimum-wage laws in various provinces and states, “This does not open the door to future claims like this. . . . it’s unlikely the CHL is going to have to worry about a case like this down the road.”
Unless, of course, there are changes in governments and new faces choose to rewrite the employment standards legislation that includes the exemptions from minimum-wage requirements.
“There was a belief the provincial changes showed the CHL to be on the right side of the law,” Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet wrote, “but legal advice indicated the case could continue for up to another decade. That would cost millions in fees and, according to sources, the insurance fund topped out at $30 million. Clearly, that was a major factor in deciding to settle the case.”
What’s next? According to a tweet from Westhead: “After a settlement approval hearing (likely Aug/Sept), eligible players will need to file claims with a court-appointed administrator to get a payout.”
So, as the lawyers like to say on TV, in summation . . . the winners and losers.
Well, the only winners would appear to be the lawyers.
Yes, I would suggest that everyone else loses.
The CHL teams lost because financial filings necessitated by the lawsuit allowed people on the outside to learn just how much money some of these franchises make. Yes, major junior hockey no long is a mom-and-pop operation. It is a big business.
Players, past and present, certainly didn’t win. Yesterday’s players aren’t likely to get more than a few thousand dollars out of this settlement and, as far as today’s players are concerned, nothing is going to change in terms of what they are paid.
Perhaps the biggest winners, aside from the lawyers, of course, are WHL fans in cities that won’t lose their teams.
Three years ago, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, issued a statement after the lawsuit was certified as a class-action. In that statement, Robison said: “If WHL clubs were required to provide minimum wage, in addition to the benefits the players currently receive, the majority of our teams would not be in a position to continue operating.”
That is a position that he repeated more than once or twice over the past three years. Presumably those unnamed franchises won’t cease operations now. Although considering the uncertainties presented by the pandemic-related situation in which all teams now find themselves, you wonder how they will handle getting a bill for more than a quarter of a million dollars.
“Well, major junior hockey operators in Canada got rid of one of the biggest headaches they’ve had in their history and all it cost them was $30 million, much of it paid by insurance, and a ton of negative headlines. Now they’re free to go back to paying their ‘student athletes’ less than minimum wage,” writes Ken Campbell of The Hockey News.
“Sounds like a pretty good deal for them. Because essentially what has happened when the CHL minimum-wage lawsuit was settled to the tune of $30 million is that the former players who bravely and persistently fought for this chunk of money were able to win in court for themselves and the roughly 3,600 other players in the lawsuit. But in the bigger picture, the Canadian Hockey League won in the far more important political arena by convincing each province to consider its players student athletes, which exempts it from annoying employment standards legislation. Once they managed to do that, they were happy to settle. It’s believed it cost each team about $250,000.”
Campbell’s complete piece is right here.
It should be pointed out that what came to be known as the minimum-wage lawsuit doesn’t have anything to do with another class-action lawsuit facing the CHL, its three leagues and Hockey Canada. . . . James McEwan, a former WHL player, filed a concussion-related lawsuit against the CHL, WHL and Hockey Canada in January 2019. The lawsuit later was refiled with the Supreme Court of British Columbia to include the OHL and QMJHL. . . . Preliminary discussions regarding the certification of the lawsuit as class action were to have been held in Vancouver in March. If the pandemic didn’t play havoc with that, all parties involved will be awaiting Madam Justice Neena Sharma’s ruling. . . . McEwan played four seasons (2004-08) in the WHL, splitting his time between the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds.
Tom Gaglardi, the majority owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, says the league is “trying to figure out what the season’s going to look like . . . when it’s going to start.”
Appearing on TSN 1040 in Vancouver, Gaglardi chatted with Jeff Paterson and The Moj (aka Bob Marjanovich) on Friday.
Gaglardi, who also owns the NHL’s Dallas Stars and the AHL’s Texas Stars, frequently mentioned the importance of testing in terms of getting the economy rolling again.
Even for the WHL, he said, “it really all comes down to . . . testing.”
“There’s now a swab,” he said, “that you can get that you can swab your mouth and it tells you in 30 seconds whether you’ve got the virus. If this is something that we can get out into the mainstream market, how far are we from having fans in arenas?
“We’re really waiting for something . . . it may not be a vaccine . . . I’m certainly not counting on a vaccine in 2020. But I do think we’re going to have better testing soon, more access to testing, and somewhere we’re going to get some drug that’s therapeutic that will mean a 65- or 70-year- old guy can go to a hockey game and not worry about dying, and if he comes down with a virus then we can treat him and he’s going to be OK. We need to get to there to get this economy back going.
“At some point I think we’ll get there, with a combination of testing, tracing and hopefully something’s that therapeutic that allows people to feel safe to go to events like hockey.”
Asked about playing WHL games without fans in the building, Gaglardi replied: “The WHL is a gate-driven league. Without people in the buildings, it’s hard to see how we can operate for a great length of time.”
The WHL, according to Gaglardi, has got “contingency plans like every league there is. The Western Hockey League’s not the only league in that position . . . we’ll look at all kinds of scenarios.
“At the same time, too, we’ve got an obligation . . . to develop young hockey players, so if our league starts up a little late . . . we’ve got contingency plans to get the kids into Kamloops and to develop them. We’ve got all kinds of schemes of games and day games and things we might do . . . we take that obligation seriously.”
The complete interview is right here.
Gaglardi’s appearance on the Vancouver radio station came one day after his NHL and AHL organizations were hit with more furloughs, these ones to run through July 3.
Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News reported that the latest cuts included “most of the remaining front office,” but excluded anyone who is a vice-president or higher.
“The Stars’ hockey operations department was not affected by the furloughs, but management, coaches and scouts took 20% pay cuts,” DeFranks wrote.
His complete story is right here.
The junior B Pacific Junior Hockey League will have an expansion franchise in 2020-21 — the Chilliwack Jets. That begins the number of teams in the league to 13. . . . Clayton Robinson, the majority owner, will be the general manager and head coach. . . . The Jets will play out of the Sardis Sports Complex.
Honda Indy Toronto, which had been scheduled for July 10-12, has been cancelled. The move came after the City of Toronto cancelled event permits for major events for July and August. . . .
Organizers for what was to have been Ironman Canada’s return to Penticton, B.C., announced Friday that the event has been cancelled. It had been scheduled for Aug. 30. The Ironman last was held in Penticton in 2012, ending a run that began in 1983. . . .
The GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon has been cancelled for 2020. The 41st running of the event had been scheduled for Oct. 11. Last year’s race drew more than 8,000 participants. . . .
With our annual Kidney Walk having been cancelled, my wife, Dorothy, is raising funds in support of a ‘virtual’ walk that is scheduled for June 7. All money raised goes to help folks who are dealing with kidney disease. . . . You are able to join Dorothy’s team by making a donation right here. . . . Thank you.
The U.S. national junior team has filled out its coaching staff by adding four assistants — Ted Donato (Harvard), Theresa Feaster (Providence), Kris Mayotte (U of Michigan) and Steve Miller (Ohio State). All will work alongside head coach Nate Leaman of Providence College. . . . Feaster, the director of men’s hockey operations at Providence, is the first woman named to the coaching staff. She will be Team USA’s video coach. . . . She is the daughter of Jay Feaster, a former NHL general manager with the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning. He now is the Lightning’s vice-president of community hockey development. . . . The 2021 World Junior Championship is scheduled for Red Deer and Edmonton, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5.