Labour Day - 4 Labour Movements that Shook the World of Hockey

For many of us, hockey is a fun game and a great source of entertainment, whether that be from playing or watching the pros on TV. But for those professional players, the game isn’t all just fun and games—it’s also a job and a source of income. 

On September 5th, Canada and the USA celebrate Labour Day, where we take the time to celebrate the many achievements of workers fighting for a better work environment. The world of hockey has been the subject of many labour disputes and events, some more recent than you might think. For Labour Day this year, we examine some of the biggest labour movements in hockey history. This list is not exhaustive and contains both successes and failures in the fight for a better game for everyone.

At the end of the article, the Sources section includes the resources used to write the content of this blog if you wish to engage in more in-depth discussions about the topic. Some terms and jargon can also be a bit confusing, which is why we’ve also included a Glossary.


Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash


Ted Lindsay - By Ryalschilders at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by djsasso., CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18780673

Developing the First Player's Union in the NHL (February 1957)

You may have heard Ted Lindsay’s name before already, whether you’re a big Red Wings fan, a sports historian, a card collector, or recognize the namesake of the NHLPA’s MVP award—and his name on there is not a coincidence. In fact, the renaming of the Ted Lindsay Award (formerly the Lester B. Pearson Award) in 2012 was due to his first efforts in establishing the NHL’s first Player’s Union during the time of the Original Six. 

Although a celebrated name today, Lindsay received quite a bit of notoriety when the first NHLPA came out in public—with him at the helm as President—in February 1957. It received some skeptical views from the public and heavy criticism from team management; Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe questioned his players about it behind the scenes and Red Wings GM Jack Adams referred to Lindsay as “cancer to the team.” 

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Detroit Red Wings - By Conn Smythe Fonds - This image is available from the Archives of Ontario under the item reference code F 223-3-2-7-5, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3487535

Nevertheless, the first NHLPA persisted in the fight for better wages, pensions, restrictions on exhibition games, and no-trade clauses for the betterment of the players.

In a 13-hour meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1958, the NHLPA and the NHL finally came to a collective agreement, which included a minimum wage of $7,000, more money prizes for winning the Stanley Cup, limiting the number of exhibition games, a better pension plan with a promise to reevaluate and adjust as needed, and the development of an Owner-Player Council, where owners and players could refer to for consultations.

It may all sound good on paper, but in reality, the first attempt at creating the NHLPA sadly involved very little progress, despite the intentions. Even the $7,000 minimum salary had already been unofficially established between clubs prior to the agreements. The Owner-Player Council rarely met to follow the agreement, putting the NHL back to square one. 

In effect, the first NHLPA eventually dissolved, with a new attempt to reestablish itself nearly a decade later in 1967, right amid various social justice movements. Even then, it received much resistance from owners refusing to move beyond “cultural bonds of loyalty and tradition.” It took a long time for the NHLPA to become the voice of the players that it is known as today.


Photo by Adam J on Unsplash

NHL 2004-05 Lockout

The NHL lockout in 2004 was neither the first, nor the most recent lockout in NHL history, but it was the first time an entire season was cancelled in any major sport. The lockout lasted a whopping 10 months and six days, effectively cancelling the 2004-05 season. No Stanley Cup was awarded, the first time since 1919.

As lockouts normally start in the NHL, the NHL and NHLPA had been butting heads a bit before the actual event. Simply put, the collective agreement was set to expire, but neither the NHLPA nor the NHL could agree on a new contract by the start of the season. To put pressure on the NHLPA, commissioner Gary Bettman announced a lockout on September 15, 2004.

The Stanley Cup: "Season not played" - By Horge - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5236348

The main issues during bargaining involved revenue sharing and salary caps for players. At the time, it was much more obvious which teams had money and which ones were struggling with income. With the NHLPA strongly advocating against including a salary cap, and the NHL attempting to back out of revenue sharing, a stalemate was inevitable. 

In the end, both sides did eventually come to a tentative agreement in July of 2005, agreeing to include both revenue sharing and a salary cap.


Hayley Scamurra - Photo by Jerry Yu on Unsplash

USA Women's Hockey Strike (March 2017)

Women’s hockey has been a major topic of many discussions over the past few years, particularly when it comes to treatment, equal pay, and exposure. With that lack of exposure, it was sadly pretty easy to ignore or simply not realize the disparity between men’s and women’s treatment and opportunities in hockey at the international level. After years of increasingly stellar performance that was only getting better and better, some teams were no longer having it—particularly one major hockey powerhouse.

Hilary Knight - By BDZ Sports, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63803554

In March 2017, the US Women’s Hockey team declared that they would be boycotting the IIHF World Championship until the team and IIHF could come up with an appropriate labour agreement that would satisfy both parties. Before the boycott, negotiations had been transpiring for about a year with very little success, which is why the team itself decided to take much more drastic action for, at the very least, the same benefits as the men’s team. Treatment exclusive to the men’s team at the time included but was not limited to single bedrooms during competition, flying business class, and disability insurance.

Brianna Decker - By BDZ Sports, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63803543

The US Women’s team at the time was ranked #1 in the world, and they used the platform not only to advocate for better treatment for themselves, but also for more opportunities for younger female athletes and their development. 

In the end, they finally came to an agreement: the women would receive a $2,000 increase to their stipend for training, the same travel benefits as the men, greater bonuses from championship wins, and a pool of prize money that they would get to split each year.

This event is occasionally considered the turning point for gender equality in hockey in recent years.


#NoLeague - The End of the CWHL (March 2019)

This one is a big one for me—I remember being at my own ACHL College National Championships in Dallas, TX when the news spread. The first news of the day on the morning of March 31 shocked many, and some even thought (and hoped) that it was just an April Fools joke:

 

Caroline Ouellette with the Clarkson Cup - By Genevieve2 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17640237

For many players and fans, this was a huge blow to the game, especially since the CWHL and NWHL had just been in talks about merging, expansion, better benefits, and increasing sustainability in women’s hockey. With the CWHL folding, along with very little information about—or even intention ofa new league forming, it became very easy for many young and up-and-coming female players to lose hope when it came to continuing their hockey careers. 

Many blamed the NHL for refusing to get involved. Some noteworthy players left stranded in wake of the announcement and until a solution could be identified include Blayre Turnbull, Sarah Nurse, Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Marie-Philip Poulin; Poulin had to learn about the fold right after landing in Finland for the World Championships.

However, beyond the initial emotions that the announcement stirred up, it wasn’t much of a secret that the CWHL lacked a clear and sustainable plan, and it was much too different in system and opinion to merge with the NWHL. The fold allowed for better discussion about growing the women’s game, and other leagues and possibilities were able to rise from the ashes. Notable leagues include the PWHPA (partnered with the ECHL) and the PHF in 2021 (formerly the NWHL).



Glossary

Collective Agreement: A fixed contract between an employer and a union that determines terms and conditions that must be followed by the employer and represented employees to make an equal and agreed-upon work environment. When a collective agreement expires, a new one must be negotiated. Collective agreements in North America are required to last for at least a year.

Collective Bargaining: The negotiation process between an employer and a union. Bargaining ideally takes between a month to about six months if everything is going smoothly. 

Conciliation: Process during collective bargaining where a neutral third party is brought into a negotiation. Conciliation happens when bargaining is stuck at a stalemate. The third party often has some idea about what both sides want out of the agreement.

Labour Day: A holiday that takes place on the first Monday of September and celebrates the achievements of workers (Canada, USA). It is very similar to International Workers’ Day, which is celebrated in other countries around the world.

Lockout: Similar to a strike, this is where management implements a stoppage or denial of employment to put pressure on the employees and the union. This usually occurs during a labour dispute.

Strike: Similar to a lockout, this is when employees refuse to return to work in light of a grievance or poor work conditions. It is used as a strategy to put pressure on management to make changes.

Union: An organized group of people, often workers from a trade or profession, who come together to represent the employees when negotiating specific work terms and conditions with an employer.

Union Busting: Efforts made by an employer to disrupt the organization or growth of a union and its members. This is usually in the form of spreading misinformation amongst employees about unions.


Sources / Further Reading

Labour Day

“Bargaining Rights.” British Columbia Labour Relations Board, 3 June 2022. Source link

Human Resources at the University of Guelph. “Labour Relations — Frequently Asked Questions.” University of Guelph, August 2011. Source link

“Labour Day.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 2 May 2022. Source link

“Lockout (Industry).” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 7 June 2022. Source link

Pryzbylski, David J. “How Long Does It Take to Negotiate a Union Contract?” Barnes & Thornburg LLP, 13 July 2021. Source link 

“Union Busting.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 25 August 2022. Source link

 

Developing the First Player's Union in the NHL

Bartee, Howard Jr. “The Role of Antitrust Laws in the Professional Sports Industry from a Financial Perspective.” The Sport Journal, 2 March 2005. Source link

Cox, Damien. “History Lesson Reveals Old Enmity.” ESPN, 9 Dec 2004. Source link

Marsh, James H. “Ice Hockey in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 March 2015. Source link

Marsh, James H. “Ted Lindsay.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 March 2019. Source link

Networth. Directed by Jerry Coccoritti, produced by Bernard Zukerman, starring Aiden Devine, Kevin Conway, and Robin Gammell, FilmRise, 1995. Amazon Prime (US)

NHLPA Media Release. “Ted Lindsay: 1925-2019.” NHLPA, 4 March 2019. Source link

Ross, Andrew J. “Trust and Antitrust: The Failure of the First National Hockey League Players’ Association, 1957-1958.” Business and Economic History On-Line. Source link

Staudohar, Paul D. “The Hockey Lockout of 2012-2013.” Monthly Labor Review, vol. 8, July 2013. Source link

“Ted Lindsay.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 28 July 2022. Source link

 

NHL 2004 Lockout

Kelsall, Christopher. “NHL’s 2004-05 Lockout Still Affecting the League.” The Hockey Writers, 8 July 2020. Source link

SI Staff. “The 2004 NHL Lockout: A Light Look Back at a Dark Day (9/16/04).” SI NHL, 15 Sept 2014. Source link

TSN Research Team. “Timeline for 2004-05 Lockout.” ESPN, 2 Oct 2012. Source link

“2004-05 NHL Lockout.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 18 July 2022. Source link

 

USA Women's Hockey Strike

Associated Press. “US Women’s Hockey Team Strike ‘Historic’ Pay Deal and Agree to End Boycott.” The Guardian, 29 March 2017. Source link

Langone, Alix. “Before Team USA Women’s Hockey Won Olympic Gold, They Won Equality Off the Ice.” Money, 22 Feb 2018. Source link

Whyno, Stephen. “Hope for Agreement in U.S. Women’s Hockey Wage Dispute Emerges.” CBC Sports, 21 March 2017. Source link

 

#NoLeague - The End of the CWHL

“Collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 22 Jan 2022. Source link

Franklin, Michael. “Canadian Women’s Hockey League Will Shut Down on May 1.” CTVNews, 31 March 2019. Source link

Krotz, Paul. “NWHL Rebrands as Premier Hockey Federation.” Premier Hockey Federation, 7 Sept 2021. Source link

Norman, Mark David. “Guest Post: North American Women’s Ice Hockey Players Struggle for a League of Their Own.” Hockey in Society, 12 June 2019. Source link

Pardy, Brett. “Myth Busting, Part 4: ‘We Need a New Model.’” Hockey in Society, 19 May 2020. Source link

Szto, Courtney. “Myth Busting, Part 1: “No One Wants to Watch Women’s Hockey.” Hockey in Society, 7 April 2019. Source link


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