Jan 20, 2012; London, ON, Canada; London Knights center Max Domi (16) during their game against the Owen Sound Attack at the John Labatt Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The CHLPA - Raising Some Good Q's, But Is A Union Necessary In Junior Hockey?

With the current Labour strife going on at the top level, the last thing hockey fans want to hear is another potential Labour war on the horizon.

The CHLPA is a group that was formed this past summer, with the stated mission

To represent all CHL players in a manner that is fair and equitable, always keeping in mind the physical, mental, educational and financial well-being of each player now and in the future. – CHLPA.COM

After feeling slighted by the CHL and President David Branch, the CHLPA took unprecedented legal action on Friday by filing a suit against the Halifax Moosehead over minimum wage requirements.  The CHLPA claims it will be the first of many such lawsuits until Branch meets with them and they reach a set of minimum standards for the conditions they play in.

Not much is really known about the CHLPA, which is why Branch is hesitant to take them at face value.  Who is behind it?  Who is really supporting it? Former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque was named the Executive Director in the summer and is really the only face associated with the union.  It is not a certified union and doesn’t seem to rank as an all encompassing representative group.

That aside, the questions raised are legitimate.  Should junior hockey players be considered employees and as such he subject to Labour laws such as minimum wage and vacation pay?

It is a question that I have flip-flopped on over the last couple of days.

They are considered semi-professional athletes.  They get their food and housing paid for by billet families who are compensated by the teams.  They have access to an education package for a year of university tuition for every year they play in the CHL.  They receive a stipend of about $50 per week spending money. Their school fees are also covered while they are playing (I believe that is on top of the post-CHL scholarship)

The CHLPA does make some good points.  Being able to access the fund for longer than 18 months after the completion of their OHL careers.  Accessing the funds for an entrepreneurial enterprise is an interesting option that should be explored.  I spoke with a player from the Ottawa 67’s last spring who had no interest in going to school.  This player is not likely to play prominent hockey after his career in the OHL is over, and giving him access to the same funds to invest in a business as a way of making a living post-hockey.  Maybe the business would succeed and maybe it wouldn’t.   The risk would be no greater than spending thousands on an education that may or may not benefit the player, especially if they don’t want to be there.

But as for minimum wages, the investments that teams make in their players seems to exceed what “minimum wage” would encompass. This isn’t like a normal job, and the players are in it for many reasons, not the least of which is to gain notice for those who might be willing to pay them some or a lot of money to play a sport in the future. Some of them will get paid millions, others may scratch out a living in the minors or Europe, while most will end their CHL careers and get jobs like other working stiffs out there.

I look at junior hockey as kind of like high school in the hockey world.  You go there to get educated and the best will advance to the next level, where some will succeed greatly and move on to bigger and better things while others just survive.

The CHLPA can argue that the teams make money off their backs and they should get paid for their services.  The teams would argue that they provide the best platform available for showcasing the players talents with the potential for cashing in a lottery ticket that becomes an NHL contract.

That is the chance the player takes. This is not the NHL and a good number of the CHL member clubs are operating near break even or at a loss.  They cannot afford to pay the players as well as offer the other benefits.  The educational package is not perfect by any means, but it is more than many people, who don’t possess the skill set to play in the CHL, can access.

The fledgling CHLPA may or may not get enough support to become official and be taken seriously.  It does raise some questions, but do we really want 16 and 17 year olds subjected to this kind of union and labor talk?  Teams should be there to them live the dream as long as they can, and be provide the support they need while they are playing and the opportunity to recover adequately once their dreams of NHL stardom are crushed, as a majority of them will be, as unfortunate as that sounds.



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