The U.S. women's hockey team announced Wednesday that it will boycott the upcoming world championship tournament on home ice unless there is significant progress in settling a wage dispute with USA Hockey.
Players said they informed USA Hockey that they would not report to training camp next Wednesday without clear steps toward what they hope is a four-year contract. The U.S. is the defending champion after winning the gold medal last year.
"To voluntarily take ourselves out of the running to (repeat) is not easy, but it's what's right and we're asking for what's right and fair," forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone. "It's definitely hard. But as a group we've made this decision and as a team and I'm proud to do this with my teammates and to stand arm in arm with them and to say enough is enough."
A spokesman for USA Hockey said the organization would have a statement later Wednesday. The International Ice Hockey Federation tournament begins March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan.
The players are seeking a contract with USA Hockey that they say "includes appropriate compensation." John Langel, a lawyer for the players, wouldn't reveal monetary figures players were asking for but characterized the negotiating gap between them and USA Hockey as a chasm.
The players have had contracts only in Olympic years and are seeking a deal that covers them in all other years. According to Lamoureux-Davidson and the law firm representing players, USA Hockey has paid players $1,000 a month during their six-month Olympic residency period and nothing the rest of the time.
"They're looking for support for every year so that they don't have to have second and third jobs and don't have to have family supporting them," Langel said by phone, adding that players are looking for a four-year contract and have been for more than a year.
Captain Meghan Duggan said players are asking USA Hockey "to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought." Lamoureux-Davidson said players are hopeful that taking a stand will force the issue.
"We all want to go play," she said. "But it's been 14 months and we haven't seen progress, so if there's progress within the next week and a half, we'll see. But there needs to be significant steps taken and hopefully USA Hockey finds this significant enough to want to start making progress with us."
The wage dispute follows one by U.S. women's soccer players, who last March filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation. Lamoureux-Davidson said the hockey players have been in touch with soccer players about their fight, which has also been going on for years.
"When I was hired by the soccer players in 1998, they were paid more than the hockey players are paid today," said Langel, who represented U.S. women's soccer players from 1998 to 2014.
The U.S. team was already in the midst of change after Ken Klee was replaced as coach by Robb Stauber weeks before the start of the tournament.
Cammi Granato, one of the first women in the Hockey Hall of Fame after being inducted in 2010, dealt with wage disputes during her career and appreciates current players taking such a difficult stand.
"It says a lot for what they're fighting for," Granato said by phone. "It says a lot for the fact that there needs to be change. This takes a lot of courage."
Recently retired six-time Canadian Olympian Hayley Wickenheister tweeted : "Action takes guts - we know this fight well. Sadly we both have it better than most of world."
According to Langel, USA Hockey has told lawyers representing U.S. players that Canadian players are paid by the government, not by Hockey Canada. A spokeswoman for Hockey Canada said Sport Canada does fund players in non-Olympic years and that the organization similarly pays players in the six months leading up to the Olympics.
Langel said USA Hockey has been unwilling to address the issue of pay in non-Olympic years. Lamoureux-Davidson said players recently received a bonus payment for its December series against Canada.
"Other than that one check, we virtually get paid nothing," "Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We get paid for six months out of a four-year span."
The U.S. has won six of the past eight world championships.