For my masters program, I had to write a paper that had something to do with management & labor relations. So I chose the NHLPA.
The NHLPA’s Hiring of Donald Fehr as Executive Director for Collective Bargaining in 2012
The NHLPA’s Hiring of Donald Fehr
September 15, 2012 will be a very important date for the National Hockey League (NHL), the players and the fans. The events leading up to this date will determine if there will be another lost season. The NHL last missed an entire season in 2004-2005 when the owners staged a lockout. No one can say if the NHL will be able to withstand another lockout. The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) recently appointed Donald Fehr as director which will drastically shape the direction in which the contract negotiations will go.
Over the next year and a half the NHL and NHLPA will need to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) without the disastrous results of years past. In April 1992 a strike led to the postponement of 30 games (Stoppages Possible for both NFL and NBA, 2010). The 1994-1995 season was shortened to 48 games (down from 82) when the owners staged a lockout over putting a salary cap in place (Elliott, 2011). This caused a total of 468 games to be missed (Stoppages Possible for both NFL and NBA, 2010). Then in 2004 the NHL made history. The NHL became the first professional sports league to cancel an entire season ( Elliott, 2011). Commissioner Gary Bettman was looking to control costs and “reduce the percentage of revenues funneled toward players’ salaries” ( Elliott, 2011). The NHL wanted a hard salary cap plus a 24 percent rollback on current contracts; eventually the NHLPA broke down and agreed to the NHL’s demands ( Elliott, 2011).
In 2004, the NHL was headed by Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly while the NHLPA was headed by Executive Director Bob Goodenow and President Trevor Linden (ex NHL player). The NHLPA has gone through several different directors and much turmoil since the lockout in 2004. The hiring of Donald Fehr indicates that the NHLPA is ready to play hard ball with Gary Bettman and Bill Daly.
It’s 6 pages long. If you want to read more, click the jump. I didn’t include the cover page or bibliography. This isn’t meant to be all inclusive or an opinion piece. It’s just informational for people who may not know anything about sports and unions.
The NHLPA was established in 1967 in order to represent professional hockey players, in the NHL, and uphold the terms of the CBA (About the NHLPA, n.d.). According to NHLPA.com, “The NHLPA is the sole and exclusive bargaining representative of the present and future players in the NHL”. Each year 30 players (one from each team) are elected to serve as the executive board which has control over all NHLPA activities (About the NHLPA, n.d.). Daily operations are left to the executive director and staff (About the NHLPA, n.d.).
The executive director of the NHLPA has been a tumultuous position at least since the 2004-2005 lockout. In the five years since, the NHLPA has gone through three different executive directors. As of mid December, the NHLPA has appointed a new executive director who may just be the man to go to bat for the players against the likes of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly.
In September 2010, a NHLPA committee suggested Donald Fehr for the position but because of the turbulent past they decided it was best to put it to a member wide vote (Vogl, 2010). The members voted overwhelmingly to appoint Fehr as the newest executive director (Vogl, 2010). Fehr only accepted the job after the NHLPA ratified their constitution to give Fehr “significant authority as long as he has a majority of support from the players” (Ackert, 2010). He also asked that he primarily work from New York, to keep his brother on retainer for $3 million annually (as legal counsel), ability to do consulting work and ability to write a book (Campbell, 2010). The appointment of Fehr signals that the NHLPA is ready to fight for the players rights against the NHL, which hasn’t been the result with the past directors.
Fehr was executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) from 1983 to 2009 (Vogl, 2010). Fehr accomplished much in Major League Baseball (MLB) during his tenure as executive director. Because of Fehr, the MLB has had relative labor peace during the last 16 years, even while working out two new CBA’s (Flynn, 2010). According to Vogl (2010), he helped bring about huge salary gains for the players. Fans of hockey are worried that if history repeats itself, Fehr will oversee a strike, like the one in 1994 that canceled the World Series. Fehr has stated the strike in MLB was because the owners were bargaining in bad faith and the strike was ended when they were found to be violating federal laws, which he hopes to avoid this time around (Flynn, 2010).
Fehr plans to do his homework in order to truly represent the NHLPA at the bargaining table. Fehr has stated he won ‘t even look to begin negotiations until Spring of 2012 (Custance, n.d.) because he needs to learn the sport as he has never played or coached the game of hockey (Wyshynski, 2010). Fehr will spend his time learning the current CBA and what ways the players are benefited and hurt by it. Fehr also needs to learn the revenue sharing system and the economics of hockey (Custance, n.d.).
Fehr also knows he needs to get the players more involved. He understands they are disillusioned with the union (Wyshynski, 2010) and he wants to spend one-on-one time with them to find out what they think are the key issues (Custance, n.d.). Fehr also wants to look to the future to find shared goals and hopefully work with the NHL to reach an agreement that will attain those goals (Campbell, 2010).
Now that Fehr has taken office he needs to put in place a staff that can help the NHLPA compete with the NHL at the bargaining table. Fehr will be 64 years old when the current CBA expires and it will be doubtful that he remains the executive director for too many years beyond reaching an agreement in 2012 (Custance, n.d.). It seems he has put together a top notch team with extensive sports and union backgrounds. For his lawyer and economic consultant, Fehr has brought in Richard Rodier, most known as Jim Balsillie’s attorney in his bid to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario and the subsequent bankruptcy case (ESPN.com, 2011). According to ESPN.com, Rodier will review all legal, economic and business issues. Fehr has also brought in two associate counsels, Robert DeGregory and Maria Dennis, to handle collective bargaining and individual player matters (ESPN.com, 2011). DeGregory has previously worked for the Writer’s Guild of America West and the United Steelworkers International Union (ESPN.com, 2011). Dennis has played for the U.S. Woman’s National and Yale’s Woman’s team and served on the boards for USA Hockey, the USOC (United States Olympic Committee), and the Salt Lake Olympics Organizing Committee (ESPN.com, 2011). Lastly, Fehr has brought in Colin A. Campbell, from MKTG Marketing, to be director of corporate sponsorships to drive the NHLPA’s sponsorship business (ESPN.com, 2011). With his supporting players in place, Fehr is now ready to start looking at the issues most important to the NHLPA in the upcoming collective bargaining sessions.
There are several areas that will be brought to the bargaining table but the hot button issue will be revenue sharing. One of the key areas with revenue sharing is the lower profile teams in large markets. These teams are currently unable to participate because they are in areas that have t.v. households of 2.5 million. These teams are not the primary team in the area. The teams affected are the Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders (Botta, 2010). These teams may be in large markets yet compete for fans, and their money, with the L.A. Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.
Custance (n.d.) states that revenues and U.S. television ratings continue to increase while the on-ice product just might be the best it’s ever been. The players want to maintain at least their current percentage of the revenue while the NHL wants the players to receive a smaller percentage of the revenues (Elliott, 2011). The other major monetary issue is the effect of long term contracts and their cap hit. Recently the current CBA was amended to curtail the long term contracts used to minimize the cap hit. The NHL is looking to change the new CBA to make long term contracts reflect the actual amount paid each season instead of the average (Elliott, 2011). Also of interest is allowing the team trading a player to continue to pay part of the salary, which is not allowed under the current CBA (Elliott, 2011).
Other non-monetary issues will also need to be addressed. One main point the players will stand strong on is an in-season break for the Olympics every four years (Ackert, 2010). The NHL is looking to cut the professionals from being eligible for the Olympics. The NHL feels the Olympics alter the 82-game schedule too much and leave players more vulnerable to injury. The players want to represent their countries and have a chance to win the gold at the highest, most prestigious level. The NHL players have participated in the Olympics for quite a few years. The years that they do not have Olympics, the players participate in an All Star Game and Competition. The NHL is ok with this type of game since it is not as long and strenuous. Another area of great importance to the players is the Christmas break of December 24th and 25th. The current CBA doesn’t allow for games on those two days and players want to keep it that way (Custance, 2010). According to Custance (2010), the players prefer to spend that time with their family rather than playing. The NHL has also made the Winter Classic (played on January 1st) it’s premier holiday event. Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings believes the players would fight to keep the Christmas break (Custance, 2010).
Finally a new area of concern is disciplinary hearings. The NHL has been trying to crack down on dangerous hits to the head and has been holding players responsible for their actions. The supplemental discipline and appeals process will be looked at under the new CBA (Custance, n.d.). The NHLPA represents both players and this could be considered a conflict of interest. Brad Stuart of the Detroit Red Wings believes the NHLPA “should focus on protecting players not protecting them from suspensions” (Custance, n.d.). Custance (n.d.) thinks it could be time that the injured player should have a say at the disciplinary hearing.
The revenue sharing, cap hits, Olympic and holiday breaks and dangerous hits are the main areas that will be brought to the table in 2012. The players hope that Fehr will be the right person to make sure their voices are heard. For now the players are leaving these issues to the NHLPA, agents and management. Even future stars like Steve Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning), Alex Semin (Washington Capitals) and Drew Doughty (L.A. Kings), whose contract negotiations may be affected by the uncertainty in future free agency seasons, would rather worry about their on-ice play than the business side (Custance, 2010).
While the current CBA was set to expire September 15, 2011, a clause to extend it by one year was exercised by the players in June of 2010 ( Stoppages Possible for both NFL and NBA, 2010). The NBA and NFL CBA’s expire prior to September 2012. If the NBA and NFL have work stoppages as expected, the NHL would be handed an opportunity to expand the leagues popularity and gain more fans (Flynn, 2010). Even if the other leagues are able to agree without a stoppage, the NHL will need to make sure they do too or risk losing fans.
Hopefully Fehr is the answer the NHLPA is looking for. If Fehr and the NHL can reach an agreement prior to September 2012 and avoid a strike or lockout situation, the NHL is poised to continue to grow and gain more of the market share.