NHL files suit against union

| Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, 7:24 p.m.

The NHL lockout has landed in federal court.

The league on Friday filed a class-action complaint in New York federal court in an effort to confirm “the ongoing legality of the lockout.” It also filed an unfair practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the Players' Association “has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process.”

Players voted Thursday to authorize its union's executive board to file a disclaimer of interest with the U.S. Department of Labor. Disclaiming interest is similar to decertification, a tactic the NFL and NBA players associations employed during their recent lockouts. Disclaiming interest instantly disbands the union and does not involve the labor relations board, while decertification could take 60 days.

The NHL could no longer negotiate with executive director Donald Fehr or special counsel Steve Fehr if the union disclaims interest, said Jared Simmer, an adjunct professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon. The union would immediately cease representing players, who then could file antitrust lawsuits against the league.

The union released a statement late Friday, saying they believe the league's position without merit.

“The NHLPA has just received a copy of the National Labor Relations Board charge and has not yet been served with the lawsuit,” the statement read. “However, based on what we've learned so far, the NHL appears to be arguing that Players should be stopped from even considering their right to decide whether or not to be represented by a union. We believe that their position is completely without merit.”

Several players said the union board was expected to disclaim interest soon. The league claims that such a tactic “constitutes bad faith bargaining.” The league named Penguins' union representative Craig Adams as a defendant because Adams is a member of the board.

“In past labor situations, this has been called the nuclear option,” Simmer said. “What players would be doing is blowing it up with hope the negative publicity, cost and time forces owners back to the table to get a deal done. It's a risk, but it's a risk players might take if they feel talks are going nowhere.”

The NHL and union have not negotiated since owners and players met Dec. 4-5 in New York. The league asked for clarity on three points, including length of a new labor contract, and the union responded with a new proposal Dec. 6.

Owners rejected the offer, and the sides have not bargained since, though federal mediators met separately with the NHL and NHLPA on Wednesday and Thursday in New Jersey.

The lockout hit Day 89 Friday. Games are canceled through Dec. 30.

No negotiations are scheduled.

The NHL has not declared a drop-dead date to begin play, but a 48-game 1995 season began in late January. The league waited until early February 2005 before canceling the 2004-05 campaign.

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

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