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Penguins' co-owner Burkle to join labor talks

| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 6:40 p.m.

The Penguins' big man is getting involved in the NHL labor fight.

Not Mario Lemieux, the Hall of Fame former player, but Ron Burkle, a majority co-owner whose net worth is about $3.5 billion.

Burkle is one of six owners who will attend a meeting with select players Tuesday in New York. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr will not attend the session, though select staff will be in the room.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union special counsel Steve Fehr will attend the meeting.

“It's good to add new voices and perspectives,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “At this point I don't think it can hurt.”

Burkle, 60, was not available for comment. He historically does not grant interviews, and all NHL club personnel face a fine of between $250,000 and $1 million for publicly commenting on the labor dispute.

The Penguins have had no representation at previous meetings between the league and union during the lockout, which will hit Day 79 Monday. The franchise is a moderate in a labor dispute over definition and division of revenue, money needed to honor current players' contracts and contractual issues such as free agency and max term limits.

NHL games are canceled through Dec. 14. A Board of Governors meeting is scheduled for Friday.

NHL bylaws require eight of 30 clubs to support labor action taken by Bettman, who has been backed at previous meetings by hard-line owners Jeremy Jacobs (Boston), Murray Edwards (Calgary), Ted Leonsis (Washington) and Craig Leipold (Minnesota).

Jacobs and Edwards will join Burkle at the Tuesday meeting. Also to attend are: Mark Chipman (Winnipeg), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay).

The Players' Association was finalizing late Sunday which players would attend the meeting.

Penguins union rep Craig Adams said he would take a “wait and see” approach. He said Burkle has “always treated me well” during his three seasons with the club.

The meeting, suggested by Bettman after federally mediated talks broke Thursday, was accepted by the union on the condition that fresh voices represent the NHL.

“There will be owners attending this meeting who have not previously done so, which is encouraging and which we welcome,” Fehr said in a statement.

Burkle is close with Crosby, whom union officials have praised for his engagement during the labor dispute.

A noted Democratic fund raiser, Burkle is considered a master deal maker — especially in his native California, where he first struck big working with grocery unions. He is a past recipient of the ALF-CIO Murray Green Meany Kirkland Community Service award and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Man of the Year award.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell lauded Burkle for his negotiating work during the Penguins' pursuit for Consol Energy Center funding in 2007.

“Neither Bettman nor Fehr could possibly be a tougher negotiator than Ron,” Rendell said in November.

“But what made Ron tough is also what makes him successful. He is prepared, keeps his cool and understands that there has to be give from both sides to get a deal done. That's what I saw from him during the arena talks.”

Burkle and Lemieux own majority stakes with the Penguins. They led a group that purchased the franchise out of bankruptcy in 1999 but had no relationship before that pursuit. Neither man is fond of the public spotlight, though Burkle has made headlines for his political (former President Bill Clinton) and celebrity (Rolling Stones' front man Mick Jagger) associations.

One of the richest men in America, Burkle is famous for dressing in jeans and a black Polo shirt. Crosby was surprised to see Burkle in a suit at Crosby's 21st birthday party several years ago.

Burkle and Lemieux rarely are involved in day-to-day Penguins dealings. They have appointed club CEO David Morehouse and general manager Ray Shero to run the club's business and hockey operations respectively.

However, Burkle has impacted the franchise beyond his initial investment and the arena deal.

He backed the payroll increase necessary for the Penguins to acquire high-profile winger Marian Hossa at the 2008 NHL trade deadline. He signed off on eating the remaining two-plus year of Michel Therrien's contract when Shero made a coaching change a year later.

Burkle also insisted that players' facilities — dressing room, workout and training areas — be state of the art when Consol Energy Center was being designed.

He has hosted club officials and players at his Southern California mansion when the Penguins play in Los Angeles or Anaheim.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-380-5635.

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