Play­ers’ lawyers fire back at OHL, On­tario govern­ment in $180M law­suit fight

The Observer (Sarnia) - - SPORTS -

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 full-scale 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 Doug 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 con­tin­ues.

“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 Premier Doug Ford and Ti­bollo, the min­is­ter of tourism, cul­ture and sport, ask­ing the prov­ince to con­firm its play­ers as am­a­teur ath­letes – a def­i­ni­tion seen as a key fac­tor in help­ing the OHL de­fend it­self against the $180 mil­lion class-ac­tion 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. I look for­ward to reach­ing out some­time in the very near fu­ture, with a so­lu­tion that I am sure you, the league, the fans, the bil­lets, and the play­ers will all be happy with.”

In a re­cent Free Press in­ter­view, Branch said ma­jor ju­nior hockey teams — some of which gen­er­ate mil­lions in rev­enue an­nu­ally — could be over­whelmed if they lose the law­suit, dam­ag­ing the league's sta­tus as the premier tal­ent de­vel­oper for the NHL.

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.

“Other mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar em­ploy­ers don't get to avoid pay­ing the em­ploy­ees who drive their rev­enue. Pay­ing wages is part of do­ing busi­ness. Why should the OHL be any dif­fer­ent?” the let­ter says.

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