Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Fehr Tactics

7

Two interesting CBA tidbits came out this week as Gary Bettman met with the General Managers at their annual meeting. About all he could tell them was that they will find themselves operating with an announced salary cap that will likely not apply next season.

The first interesting piece has Bettman on the CBA talks:

“We told the clubs to conduct business as usual and the update is there was no update. There’s nothing going on [in terms of talks]… The fact is when the union is ready to negotiate, we’ll be ready to sit down. I’m not particularly concerned about the timeline. There’s plenty of time.

“We have new union leadership, a lot of new personnel, and my guess is they still have a lot of work to do. And I’m okay with that. When they’re ready, we’re ready.

“Structurally, the fundamentals of the system have done what we expected, but I assume that when we sit down to bargain, both sides are going to have issues they want to focus on. But I have no intention of being specific yet on where we are.”

Second, there was the cancellation of next season’s opening games in Europe:

To date, there have been no formal bargaining talks between the league and NHL Players’ Association. However, the sides were in contact about the status of the premiere games for next season. The league was willing to schedule them, but an agreement couldn’t be reached with the NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage, according to two sources.

They still haven’t started talking yet? The fact that Donald Fehr is new in the job was a dubious explanation for delaying even until the All-Star break. It’s more than a little thin today and Bettman is surely frustrated by the waiting.

Donald Fehr knows he is going to get squeezed, and he’d prefer to get squeezed later. If that causes uncertainty among the GMs, so be it. He’s playing defense and delay is the first tactic. He’s telescoping the negotiating window and the time available for the NHL PR machine to drum up fan support for rich owners. Fehr is probably telling Gary, “June for sure. Late June, that is. Early July at the latest. Let me check my calendar again.”

Bettman is also correct: This is not a complicated negotiation and there is plenty of time. There are a few easy to resolve one way or the other issues and there is money. Bettman wants a big whack of money and Gary can hardly wait to tell the NHLPA how much more the owners want over the next ten years. Donald Fehr isn’t looking forward to it at all and he wants lots of players in that first meeting with Bettman. He’s going to let Gary tell them directly that they make way too much money.

The games in Europe are the first casualties of the war, but let’s not pretend that the issue was cancellation costs. The players are not planning to strike and will happily open the season without an agreement no matter how the negotiations are going. Cancellation costs would only apply if the owners locked out the players. Expecting the players to pony up cancellation costs if the owners won’t let them play is a bit much, isn’t it? (Apparently the league prefers “work stoppage” to the more accurate “the owners are going on strike again”.)

But cancelling the European games sends the players the message even without negotiations. If there isn’t a new CBA signed the owners are going to lock out the players until they do sign one. Why should Donald Fehr or the players to be in a rush to hear “We want $250 MM more a year and there will be no more hockey until you give it to us?”

Unfortunately for the players, Fehr can’t delay forever.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

7 Responses to “Fehr Tactics”
  1. Subversive says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if it were actually feasible for a rival league to start up with some hope of succeeding?

    • Tom says:

      A rival league is impossible. Even when it was feasible, it didn’t work. Forcing competition requires the use of Antitrust law. If the NHLPA disappeared, I don’t think the league could keep teams from moving to Toronto. Eventually the league couldn’t keep more teams out of Toronto and eventually a system like European football would emerge. I’d like to see it.

      I’m starting to get pissed at the sports unions for allowing this all to happen. Antitrust laws should protect consumers as well as workers. Instead we get a system that lets the really rich guys who own teams to gouge the taxpayer, the fans and the players.

  2. speeds says:

    It would be interesting to know just what sort of percentage the players would need to be faced with to seriously consider decertification.

    • Tom says:

      I don’t think they will seriously consider decertification. The NBA deal runs for 10 years. From the player’s perspective, this is a good thing because it is a full decade before they can get cut again. Hockey players might take that lesson – which by itself is a comment on the fix that they are in.

      The problem with decertification as an option is that the league will claim it is a farce, a bargaining tactic and lock the players out anyway. They would have to stay out until the for legal issues to be resolved. I think the players will just keep on getting cut. From the owner’s perspective, it is about the percentage of revenues and the extra billions they expect to extract from the players. For the players it is about “What does this do to my paycheque? What is best for me?”

      The player making the league average thinks, “I take a cut of about $200,000. That hurts but I’m still making $2.4 MM. After that I will get a raise every year. It won’t be as big of a raise, but it is still a raise. If there is a lockout that lasts half a season, I’m out $1.2 MM and I’ll be out of the league before I could ever hope to get that back even if we win. I’ll take the cut now and smaller raises. Sure the owners make $2 billion more but a lot of that money will come from the guy who wins my job in a few years. I don’t like it, but the alternative is worse.”

      Several years from now, the owner’s will want 60%. Again the players will be asked to take a paycut (that hurts, but…) in the first year along with (smaller) raises in the subsequent years. Again the sensible choice for the individual player will be to give in rather than lose a chunk of a short career.

      • beingbobbyorr says:

        The problem with decertification as an option is that the league will claim it is a farce, a bargaining tactic and lock the players out anyway. They would have to stay out until the for legal issues to be resolved.

        If the players decertify, what would the league’s “claim” (that decertification is a farce or bargaining tactic) have to do with anything? Doesn’t decertification mean the NHL’s 30 constituent members either (a) start negotiating with ~690 individual contractors where everything is deuces-wild, or (b) call themselves a sports league that plays no games, or (c) wait for some new union (of AHL & European talent) to create itself and offer less-skilled labor?

        Presumably, anti-trust law is what compels the NHL to deal with a union. Does a sports league not have an option of waiving anti-trust protection and saying “We choose to negotiate with individuals, not a collective. We welcome any & all competing hockey leagues.”

        • Tom says:

          Presumably, anti-trust law is what compels the NHL to deal with a union. Does a sports league not have an option of waiving anti-trust protection and saying “We choose to negotiate with individuals, not a collective. We welcome any & all competing hockey leagues.”

          Labour law is what compels the NHL to deal with the Union. But if they do, they are exempt from anti-trust law at least in their dealings with the players. They certainly have this option if the players decertify. They won’t, in my opinion, because they are better off if labour law applies rather than anti-trust law. Decertification would mean plenty of things but perhaps the most important from the league’s perspective is they would lose control of where franchises exist. The Leafs would probably lose their monopoly in Toronto for example.

          I think it was very telling when the NBAPA decertified. The NBA did not celebrate this action like you would expect from an employer. (Would GM be happy if autoworkers decertified?) Instead they insisted the Union decertification was merely bargaining in bad faith and labour law, not anti-trust law, still applied. That issue was heading for the courts when the parties settled.

          The players caved, not because their case was bad. They caved because it was going to cost at least one season to win their case. It could take a lot longer if the owners appealed. Today’s players would have to give up millions most would never recoup to benefit tomorrow’s players.

          Collective bargaining protects employers more than employees in this crazy industry. At least that’s what NBA owners believe. If they did not believe that, they would have given up the anti-trust exemption they earn by bargaining and negotiated contracts individually. The players are stuck because they make too much money and they have careers that are too short.

  3. domain says:

    Hi, after reading this remarkable piece of writing i am also cheerful to share my knowledge here with
    colleagues.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!