[NHL] NHLPA said no thanks to Teamsters support

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Sep. 27, 2005. 01:00 AM

Brothers shut out by union

NHLPA said no thanks to Teamsters support



Eight days after the NHL announced last fall that it was locking out its 700-plus players, the head of one of the world's largest unions quietly contacted NHL players association boss Bob Goodenow with an intriguing offer.

In a two-page letter sent to the union on Sept. 24, 2004, Teamsters president James P. Hoffa wrote that his powerful union was willing to help the players put more pressure on NHL team owners such as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Maple Leafs and basketball's Raptors.

"The BT (Brotherhood of Teamsters) stands willing to support the NHLPA's fight for fairness," Hoffa wrote in his letter to Goodenow, which was obtained by the Star.

Two months passed before Goodenow responded to Hoffa's letter and when he did phone one of the union's top Canadian officials, Goodenow's reply was terse, a Teamsters official said.

"He just said `thanks but we're ok with where we're going,'" said Larry MacDonald, president of Teamsters Local 938 in Toronto.

"I've been around 25 years and I've never seen such a lackadaisical approach to collective bargaining," MacDonald said. "We had members who would have been ready to picket Raptors games in Toronto and we have members in the U.S. who would have come up with a strategy to pressure companies like Disney (which until this year owned the Anaheim Mighty Ducks). This is our business."

It's been two months since the NHLPA surrendered to the league in their labour battle and it's worth asking whether the union could have garnered a better deal. Would the help of the Teamsters or other unions have helped the players gain some momentum? Would waiting to agree on a deal closer to October, when the season starts, have helped to coax owners into agreeing to a deal that wasn't so one-sided?

Fact is, some players are demanding to know the details of the union's recent bargaining tactics because they believe last season ? and the $1 billion U.S. worth of salaries that went up in smoke with its cancellation ? could have been saved.

"It seems like we made mistakes," said Carolina defenceman Bret Hedican. "If we were going to accept a salary cap, we should have looked at it earlier so we could have saved last season. What was the point of losing a year?"

At this point, the union will never know whether retaining a mediator ? at least one agent last December suggested the players consider these three prospects: former U.S. President Bill Clinton; former Deputy Prime Minister Marc Lalonde; and Maurice Strong, a long-time Canadian businessman who was recently the United Nations top envoy to North Korea.

Boston forward Shawn McEachern said that the union's 37-member executive board was briefed on the possibility of a mediator, but decided against the measure.

"There's a lot of things over the past year that we haven't been told about," McEachern said, adding he hadn't heard about the Teamsters' offer.

To be sure, it's unclear whether the Teamsters help would have swayed the NHL's billionaire owners. But it's hard to understand why the players' union didn't at least consider their offer.

The Teamsters, after all, boast 1.5 million members and are among the most influential of unions.

It's clear that those responsible for negotiating on behalf of the players miscalculated throughout the 301-day hockey lockout. The league's players deserve to know how they ended up with their current labour deal ? which is easily the worst for players among the major North American sports.

An independent inquiry into how union president Trevor Linden and others handled the negotiations ? for starters, when and why the players back-peddled from their insistence they wouldn't accept a salary cap ? would be a prudent move.


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