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Thursday, July 31, 2014


It started innocently enough.  I put out a Tweet saying that I did not support Unifor's potential involvement in junior hockey.  Within minutes, I was in a rather lengthy social media discussion/argument with several people that lasted half an hour. 

Let me get this out of the way first:  I want nothing but the best for any CHL player no matter what direction their career may take them.   By the time a CHL player is finished their junior career they should have a running start on either their hockey career, or the next stage in life.   This is not about denying a junior hockey player resources and assets, but more about the approach. 

Now that is out of the way, utilizing the resources and power of Unifor, a powerful amalgamation of approximately 300 000 unionized employees is not the way to go.  In fact it can be argued that unionizing CHL players fundamentally changes the dynamics of each individual team, and not for the better.  Union attempts in the past have been downright laughable with several individuals with question intentions behind it.  Georges Larocques's reputation took quite a hit with is affiliation with the group in questions.  

Look, just about everyone acknowledges the fact that paying a junior hockey player either $50 a week, or $150 if you an overager is a tad meagre and very outdated.   In that spirit David Branch and the CHL quickly sought to rectify the situation and certainly made being a junior hockey player a little more lucrative.  Now players can claim expenses up to $470 a month, get $1000 in off-season training money and can wait 18 months after their overage year to access their university package which promises them one year of university for every year in the league.  It is far from perfect, but certainly demonstrated a willingness and commitment to players.  I'd shoot for 5 years to access the university package and add more cash for off-ice players.  That invests in the players, and makes them both better athletes and hopefully people.  

Now adding Unifor and the Ontario government (for the OHL) into the equation, does not just muddy the water, but it pollutes it. For Unifor to use terms like "exploitation" when it comes to players is a tad heavy handed for players who are given access to the best equipment, training and treatment for injuries while playing in the best developmental league in the world.   What is the agenda of both of these entities? Were they invited to the junior hockey party or are they strong arming their way in?  Are they truly invested in the player, or are just invested for publicity and financial motivation? I strongly suspect all of the above.  

For Unifor there is union membership for upwards of 1500 player, and the prestige of calling itself the representatives for future professional athletes.  That has a nice ring for a newly created union.   For the Ontario government unionizing junior hockey players likely has the residual effect of enforcing a minimum wage or student wage.  That means CPP, OPP , EI and taxable contributions.   The government will take that in a heartbeat!

If you want to pay a junior hockey player $9.60 an hour as a student minimum, and over $10 as a basic minimum wage, you likely put a lot of junior hockey teams at a large deficit, and probably a few more out of business completely.  In Ontario, I cannot see the likes of small/mid market teams like Sarnia, Owen Sound, Belleville, North Bay and even Kingston and Niagara being thrilled with this.  Not every junior team in Canada is London, Kitchener, Halifax, Saskatoon or Vancouver.   They work hard to provide affordable entertainment.  

Unionize junior hockey players and watch ticket prices soar, junior teams operate at a reduced budget, or shut down completely.  In short, the game and the method of doing business will radically change. If Unifor forces their way in what will result is a protracted legal battle to try and define student-athlete, and or employer/employee.  Great, so lets add the legal system and the lawyers who will benefit from this.   

I could come up with numbers, and statistics to back this up.  In fact Kitchener, one of the acknowledged "have" franchises provided a very basic analysis of their finances in order to demonstrate that they were not exactly printing money.  You can find it HERE

To me it is obvious.    

Thanks but no thanks for your interest Unifor, and while you are at it, take the provincial government with you. 

Steve Clark

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