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The Globe and Mail

NHLPA will not challenge labour laws in B.C.

A worker moves a hockey net as Vancouver Canucks team logos are projected on the ice before the team's NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday February 2, 2012.


As the NHLPA tests labour law challenges in Quebec and Alberta, it does not appear as though a similar effort is immediately poised in British Columbia.

During the last lockout, there was a move to certify the BC-NHLPA, an individual bargaining unit for the Vancouver Canucks within the broader union, the National Hockey League Players' Association.

There was, in fact, a short-lived victory in late June, 2006, as the workers' legal case was initially approved by the B.C. Labour Relations Board. However, on appeal, the board sided with the owners of the Canucks and the NHL.

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The reasoning, in an 18-page decision rendered July 31, 2007 –$2007.pdf – may perhaps be read with additional context given the current fight. In a few words, the decision stated it was better for everyone, owners and players, to have one big union of workers and that smaller entities could cause unnecessary trouble.

Basically, leave good enough alone.

"The longstanding ability of the NHL and the NHLPA to self-govern their relations through the CBA and agree upon forums and means to resolve their disputes is significant," read the decision authored by labour relations board chair Brent Mullins (who remains chair of the board today, with a term to 2015).

"We believe that in light of the nature of the structure, functioning and history of the existing regime, we should be reluctant to interfere with it by establishing another regime."

The board, in its conclusion, said it would be "inappropriate" to grant certification to a union of Vancouver Canucks, and noted that the team owners and the players are "well served by their current league-wide bargaining structure."

The board added that "if this circumstance were to change.... it may be that we would have to revisit our decision."

Such a move, however, does not appear to be in the immediate offing.

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On Tuesday, Canucks' captain Henrik Sedin said there hasn't been talk of another effort to create an individual bargaining.

"No, nothing yet, I haven't heard of anything," said Sedin.

Asked if there was any interest in such a move, Sedin said, "We'll see what happens," though that is a typical response of Sedin's, whether the question is on labour or hockey.

Asked whether the NHLPA would aid the Canucks players in such an effort, Sedin replied, "We haven't talked about it."

The original legal push in the last lockout was in part driven by the prospect of replacement players. In a strike or lockout in B.C., provisions – – in the provincial labour relations code generally prevent the hiring of replacement workers.

In a recent commentary on the current labour situation, and the previous Canucks case at the Labour Board, writer Patrick Johnston of wryly noted, "The fact that the owners had locked out the players [in 1994 and 2004] was not reflective of long-standing dysfunction."

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