Class War on Ice: The CHL class action lawsuit
RankAndFile.ca talks to Josh Mandryk about the CHL class action and the Ford government’s plan to exclude players from basic employment protections
RankAndFile.ca spoke to Josh Mandryk about the Ford government’s plan to exclude major junior hockey players in Ontario from employment standards protections, and the class action lawsuit against the CHL, OHL, and OHL teams.
This article is interesting because it includes information from the court record about what is expected of players; the finances of the teams; and the nature of the relationship between players, their teams and the OHL.
While the CHL and its affiliates present the picture of an amateur league, they are ultimately in the business of entertainment, which is derived through the labour of the players. Without players, there would be no league.
Mandryk, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, harbours no doubt as to whether the players are workers and castigates the league for using financial constraints as an excuse to avoid paying wages.
“Paying your workers is the cost of your business. If there was a new restaurant, they couldn’t say, ‘Well we are just starting up so we can’t pay our workers,’” he says.
Playing in the OHL is a full-time job for the players and they deserve adequate pay and the legal protections that are accorded to other workers in the province, Mandryk says.
He cites the plethora of revenue sources for the league including ticket sales, broadcasting rights, sponsors, advertising and memorabilia that suggest the players are being left out of the financial bonanza.
CHL players are even featured on an EA sports video game – with players receiving no royalties for the use of their graphic depictions or images.
The league has said that not all clubs make a profit, particularly those in smaller towns. But Mandryk says that sports league often stay viable through revenue-sharing models, arguing that the bigger and smaller teams are mutually co-dependent.
“They allege that financially they can’t. We reject that premise. We believe that they can and in any event if there are challenges there are solutions,” says Mandryk.
The league’s contention that many of the clubs operate a loss seems accurate, going by the financial statements that the clubs were compelled to reveal by a Calgary court in 2017.
But as TSN and Scott Wheeler have reported, the financial records prompt many questions as the claims in their statements are hard to verify. Many of the clubs’ accounts are vague. In the case of Samuel Berg’s former team, the Niagara IceDogs, the absence of a salary breakdown makes it impossible to know how much the owners are actually getting paid.
And then there are questionable expenses. While the owner of the IceDogs said in 2014 that her team about has incurred losses, TSN’s Rick Westhead reported that its financial accounts reveal the team leases four BMWs.
The CHL says that its players receive post-secondary scholarships, resources and funds for education, free equipment and a chance to develop professionally to realize their ultimate dream of playing NHL. Other benefits include being billeted with a local family during the season where meals are provided.
But as Bob McKeown said to CHC commissioner David Branch in a 2014 CBC interview, some of these are costs of doing business.
“Lots of companies provide benefits like that to their employees but it doesn’t change the fact that they are employees,” says Mandryk, citing the talk of scholarship funds as a diversionary tactic.
“I think that McDonald’s provides some educational benefits to its employees, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have to pay them minimum wage.”
He says that in any case the eligibility criteria for educational scholarships disqualifies the majority of the players. The years of service in CHL are commensurate to the years of funding allocated for post-secondary education, meaning that players who are dropped by their team after a season or two don’t necessarily receive full funding.
The 18-month window to apply for scholarship after leaving CHL also creates a problem. Hence, some are forced to choose between pursuing a career in hockey by playing another league or opting for the scholarship.