The average person trying to live on a salary while paying a mortgage and keeping food on the table can only dream about earning the money being argued about in the NHL labour dispute.
It's hard to generate much sympathy when billionaire owners fight millionaire players over dividing up a US$3-billion pot. But maybe try to focus on the principles involved, not the salaries.For Jim Chorostecki, executive director of the B.C. Federation of Labour, the NHL lockout means more than being deprived of watching the Vancouver Canucks.
He sees the NHL Players' Association facing the same scenario as many unionized workers across North America. Employers, sometimes with the help of government, are trying to roll back wages and benefits won in past contracts.
"I certainly see the battle that is happening around the NHL is part of that global battle where we are seeing right-of-centre governments going after the labour movement," Chorostecki said in an interview."We see a number of businesses and workplaces making huge profits, yet continue to try and squeeze extra dollars out of their workers. In the NHL example, you are just dealing with bigger numbers. The reality is the approach the employers are taking in terms of dealing with their workers is the same whether it's a $1-million worker in the NHL or whether it's a factory worker just barely over minimum wage.''Hearing the Canucks' Daniel Sedin say he supports the players, even if means losing an entire hockey season, doesn't exactly stir up the same image as Sally Field holding up a sign with the world "union'' in the movie Norma Rae.
But Chorostecki draws a parallel between the hockey lockout and the recent dispute involving the upscale Rocky Mountaineer train.In that conflict the federally regulated company locked out its unionized train attendants in June 2011 after the union issued a strike notice. The attendants disagreed over sometimes working 16-hour days without overtime and a proposal for them to share rooms between train trips."Even though the salary numbers are no where near what we are talking about for NHL players, (in) the issues and the process of negotiations, we're seeing a lot of similarity,'' Chorostecki said.NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, with the blessing of the owners, sacrificed the entire season in the 2004-05 lockout.
In the end the league won a salary cap and the cost certainty the owners said they needed. In the seven years since the NHL has seen its revenues grow from US$2.1 billion to the current US$3.3 billion.Now the owners say paying the players 57 per cent of revenues is too much. But their cry of poverty rings hollow after owners spent US$200 million on contracts to players in a two-day span before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ended.
That included the four-year, US$18-million deal the Canucks gave Alex Burrows. The Canucks are also one of the teams who skirted the salary cap rules by signing goaltender Roberto Luongo to a 12-year, US$64 million contract.The latest NHL proposal would see the players' share of revenue shrink to 49 per cent in the first year of a six-year contract. That share would drop to 48 per cent the next year then 47 per cent the year after.
For a player earning the NHL average of $2.4 million, that reduction does not have the same impact as an ordinary worker supporting a family.The NHL players hold one advantage other workers don't. The owner of a widget factory can always hire cheaper workers, or move his business somewhere else. Without the players, there is no NHL."Nobody is coming to watch anybody except the players,'' NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told The Team 1040 radio station in an interview.
NHL owners got what they wanted in the last lockout. Now they want more.The money involved is vastly different, but Chorostecki said all workers should keep an eye on how the hockey dispute is settled."Often workers at every level . . . find what they currently get is under attack, whether it's pensions (or) benefits, not to mention wages,'' he said. "We see in this case an employer who is trying to cut back on what they have originally agreed to give the workers."When workers are able to stand up and push back and not give in to that kind of action, all of the labour movement applauds.''***Jim Morris is a veteran reporter who has covered sports for 30 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.