Star Exclusive: Hockey union alleges OHL broke labour laws

The Ontario Hockey League illegally undermined a union drive of its players between 2012 and 2014 using “malicious, high-handed conduct,” a prospective union has alleged in a filing before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The Canadian Hockey League Players’ Association attempted to unionize major junior players in the Ontario Hockey League with a promise of establishing minimum wage payment for work weeks that often exceed full-time hours. That effort was met with aggressive “disregard for the Canadian judicial system” by league officials who attempted to avoid an employer/employee relationship with players and “circumvent labour laws, employment standards act and previous court rulings,” reads the application, obtained by the Star.In an email statement Monday, OHL commissioner David Branch said there are “deficiencies with the application not the least of which is that the allegations made are completely unfounded and untimely. We will vigorously defend ourselves against this frivolous complaint.”In the past, he has told the Star that the relationship between clubs and their players does not amount to employment because the players are considered “amateur athletes.” Union officials counter that provincial labour laws should apply to for-profit hockey clubs generating income from the work of their players.Article Continued BelowWhile OHL players have traditionally been paid stipends — typically less than $500 a month — and received benefits such as lodging, food and hockey gear, they have never been paid in accordance with minimum wage legislation. The dispute is already at the centre of a $180-million class-action suit filed in 2014 — currently before the courts — alleging the OHL is breaking minimum wage laws. At the heart of the CHLPA’s labour board grievance is a 2014 memo from the OHL to its member clubs warning them to stop using any language that would imply an employment relationship, to stop paying salaries to players and stop issuing tax slips, Workers Compensation Board contributions and employment records.