Alberta labour board allows NHL lockout of Oilers, Flames to continue

EDMONTON – The Alberta Labour Relations Board has decided that the NHL’s lockout of players from the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames can continue.

The board said in a written ruling released Wednesday that forcing an end to the lockout for two members of a 30-team league would be unlikely to solve the contract dispute between the National Hockey League and the players’ union.

“It is our expectation this is nothing more than an unhelpful distraction from their efforts,” the ruling said. “An order declaring the lockout to be in violation of the (Alberta Labour Relations) Code would have no positive impact on this dispute.”

The National Hockey League Players’ Association had wanted the board to rule the lockout illegal in Alberta.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league was pleased with the ruling.

“We are hopeful that this will enable both the league and the NHL Players’ Association to focus all our efforts and energies on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in order to get our game and our players back on the ice,” Daly said in a statement.

A release from the NHLPA said the union was considering its options.

“The players are obviously disappointed with today’s decision,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, the Alberta Labour Relations Board decided not to exercise its discretion to determine whether the owners’ lockout violates Alberta law.”

The labour board held a hearing into the dispute last month.

The union had argued that the Oilers and Flames are Alberta businesses and as such must abide by provincial labour rules. Those rules say a mediator must have 14 days to work with both sides in a contract dispute before a lockout vote can be held.

The NHL had applied for a mediator in Alberta, but informed the board after three days that it didn’t believe meetings would have to be held.

Lawyers for the NHL told the board that the league has always bargained as a unit and not through individual teams and argued that the league needs to operate under one set of labour laws to function.

The labour board didn’t answer the question as to whether the league should come under its jurisdiction. It noted that both the league and the players have made arguments under the laws of various jurisdictions depending on circumstances.

But it did decide that it had discretion under the law not to issue a ruling at all if it felt that would be the best way to get the two sides back to the bargaining table.

“This is a case where it makes labour relations sense to exercise our discretion not to make a declaration of unlawful conduct and not to issue any remedy,” the board said.

Meanwhile in New York, the NHL and the NHLPA met for five hours but the talks did little to move the sides closer to a deal in the nearly one-month work stoppage.

Daly and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with the NHLPA’s main negotiators — executive director Donald Fehr and special counsel Steve Fehr — for nearly an hour in the morning to assess where the sides were on Day 25 of the dispute, but there was no concrete discussions on the troublesome core economic issues preventing a deal.

A four-hour session that stretched into Wednesday evening centred on player health and safety issues, along with other miscellaneous legal topics.

The sides will meet again Thursday — which would have been the opening day of the NHL’s regular season — but there are still no plans to delve into how the sides will split up hockey-related revenue that was in excess of US$3 billion last season.

These were the first negotiations since the sides held an unannounced meeting in Toronto on Friday to discuss where they were and how to move the process forward.

The NHL has already cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season, wiping out 82 games from Thursday through Oct. 24.