OHL players shoot back
Lawyers rip Ford gov’t for backing league in suit
Lawyers representing players in a class-action lawsuit against the world’s premier major-junior hockey league are speaking out after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government threw its support behind the Ontario Hockey League’s push to re-affirm its players as amateur athletes.
“It is apparent that the OHL ... is putting its significant resources and its many powerful connections into a fullscale attempt to ensure that their players, unlike their other employees, are denied basic workers protection,” reads the letter signed by lawyers at Goldblatt Partners, one of the firms representing players in a $180-million class-action suit against the Canadian Hockey League, which includes the OHL.
The letter is addressed to Premier Ford and cabinet ministers Michael Tibollo and Laurie Scott.
“We hope and trust that you will consider the plight of the junior hockey players, and not only the self-interested submissions of the owners,” the letter states. “In the class action, the players are seeking simply to be recognized as employees — employees entitled to the protection of existing minimum standard legislation — the entitlement to a minimum wage, overtime pay and other basic workplace protections that all other employees in Ontario enjoy.”
OHL commissioner David Branch had penned his own open letter to Ford and Tibollo, the minister of tourism, culture and sport, asking the province confirm its players as amateur athletes — a definition seen as a key factor in helping the OHL defend itself against the lawsuit launched four years ago against the CHL, including the OHL, seeking back wages, overtime and vacation pay for players.
Tibollo responded Thursday in a letter, saying the government takes “any threat to the future of junior and amateur hockey very seriously.”
“I want you to know, that our government is behind you. We are going to do everything in our capacity to grow and support the Ontario Hockey League and junior hockey across our province,” Tibollo wrote in the two-page letter to Branch and the OHL’s board of governors. “I want to reassure the OHL and the people of Ontario that we are actively looking at providing this clarity to the OHL and we will have more to say in the coming weeks ... ”
In a recent Free Press interview, Branch said major junior hockey teams could be overwhelmed if they lose the suit.
But that’s not reason enough for players, who drive revenue for these teams, to continue to be exploited, the lawyers argue, pointing out junior hockey players in Ontario get paid an average of $50 per week for their services.