The Decertification Dance
As someone who has reached the conclusion that the NHL has to change fundamentally, I am pleased that the NHLPA is taking a step towards dissolving the Union even though we all suspect the real intent behind the move. I still think the most likely outcome when the dust settles is a new CBA I am certain to dislike, a truncated joke of a season, all of the league’s problems exacerbated by a disastrous lockout, and the same bunch of clowns running the show.
I don’t think the pre-emptive lawsuit launched by the NHL will produce anything that matters. I agree with Jonathan Willis that the NHLPA has a better case than the NBAPA. There are also interesting jurisdictional issues at play here, so I don’t think the case is quite the slamdunk the league pretends.
Still, I think the league is likely to prevail because I think that the majority of players will be voting to decertify because they believe it is the next logical step in the negotiating process. The NHL may have difficulty demonstrating it, but in my view truth is on their side. The players don’t see this vote as stepping off the cliff. We don’t hear players claiming they will be better off without the Union or extolling the benefits of a free market. To most of them this is the same next step that was taken by the NFLPA and the NBAPA.
The NHL may have a winning hand in court at this point, but it will almost certainly be a meaningless win. The tale will be told in the next couple of weeks. If the decertification is a ploy, a deal will be struck and Gary Bettman will declare that hockey has been saved for once and for all. If the decertification is real, events will prove it so, and the league will face antitrust suits they won’t be able to dismiss as ploys.
In the meantime it is amusing to watch the upside down world of labour relations in sports entertainment. In the real world, if a labour union decertified in the middle of a lockout, the employers would cheer, declare victory, throw open their doors and invite everyone back into the fold. The NHL filed a lawsuit and threatened to fire every employee if they dare decide collective bargaining is hurting instead of helping them. Crazy. I also really enjoyed the NHL effort to paint the NHL-NHLPA historical relationship as something other than toxic.
I’d write the whole dance off as an amusing waste of time except… Donald Fehr. What on earth is he doing? He can see where the court case is going and even if he thinks he can win it, any victory is several weeks away and by then the season is gone. Why is he blindly following the NBAPA into nowhere? And doing it so late? This is the brilliant Donald Fehr?
And what’s with the vote on the disclaimer of interest? It isn’t necessary and to me it appears to hurt the court case. The vote drags out the process and it makes the decertification move look more like a negotiating ploy.
What does Donald Fehr have up his sleeve as the decertification dance winds down? I don’t know, but I do know that the players may be voting as a negotiating tactic, but the vote isn’t counted as a tactic. It is counted as a vote to dissolve the Union as a bargaining entity. It cuts the players out of any informal talks and it gives Donald Fehr a mandate to blow up the league if he thinks real decertification is in the best interest of the players.
Gary Bettman might like his chances in court, but I wonder if his eye is on the right ball. I’d be worried about the power the players are about to give to Don Fehr. How will Gary feel about (the impossible to deal with and entirely unpredictable) Donald Fehr having the power to kill the season and turn Gary’s league on its head?