The players just want to play.
That is the message from Canadiens players who will see the NHL Players’ Association file an application with the Quebec Labour Board in an effort to prevent them from being locked out when the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15.
Quebec law prohibits companies from locking out its employees unless they are part of a union certified by the Quebec Labour Board. The NHLPA is not.
“More than anything, the desire to play is what’s guiding us,” Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said on an NHLPA conference call. “The owners, on the other hand, seemed determined to impose a lockout. And so, the players are going to use every tool at our disposal to stop it.”
That includes targeting labour laws in other Canadian provinces, as well. In Alberta, a mediator must be appointed to help settle differences before a company can legally lock out its employees. One was assigned on Aug. 21 but, according the Canadian Press, the NHLPA maintains that the league didn’t show much interest in working with the appointed mediator.
They are also looking into labour laws in other Canadian provinces that boast NHL clubs to potentially take similar actions.
Should the Alberta and Quebec Labour Boards rule in the players’ favour, they would conceivably have access to their NHL rinks, practice and workout facilities. For Canadiens players, that means all the amenities of the city-owned Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
The hope then is that the potential advantage for the Habs’ roster – all of whom are “on board” with the attempt to block to the lockout, says Gorges – would open some eyes.
“Even though it’s only three teams that may be involved in this, it may put pressure on other teams to say, ‘You know what, these guys are getting ready, practising and getting ready to play – maybe we should have our players doing the same sort of thing,’” he explained. “It’s unfortunate that it’s not the same laws in every city but I think it gives us an opportunity to put pressure on the owners to try and get a deal done so that other teams can join us and we can start playing on time.”
Players in non-locked out cities would also be paid, unlike the rest of their union’s members.
“We’re not doing this so that the players in Montreal can get a salary. The reason that we are doing this is to try to put pressure on the owners’ side of things to get a deal done and to allow us to continue to train and have training camp and get ready to play, even if we haven’t reached an agreement,” Gorges noted.
The NHLPA tried to get certified in Quebec once the season was officially cancelled during the 2004-05 lockout but didn’t pursue it after a deal was reached that July.
Discussions between the two sides have stalled of late, despite the looming deadline. The union has stated its willingness to keep going under the current CBA while working on a new one. The NHL and its owners don’t appear to have an interest in going that route.
“A lockout should be a last resort but the owners are treating it as the preferred option. The fact is, there is another option,” said Gorges.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has called the attempts to block the lockout in Canadian cities a “distraction” during negotiations.
“The filings are intended to interfere with the broader labor negotiating process. They will have absolutely zero impact on the broader negotiation, or on the deal we ultimately agree on,” the league said in a statement.
“The ability to continue to negotiate is still there and, from the players’ standpoint, we want to continue to negotiate as much and as often as we can in order to get playing,” Gorges said.
Yet even if attempts to block a lockout locally are unsuccessful, it won’t keep Canadiens players away from the ice.
“We want to make sure that whenever the decision gets made that we can finally start playing hockey again that we’re ready,” said Gorges. “Whether it’s at the Bell Sports Complex or a different sheet of ice, we will try to find ice so that we can skate and stay in shape.”