Fehr: Strike is a last resort

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:57 PM ET

In the minds of some, putting Donald Fehr in the driver’s seat for the National Hockey League Players' Association means the NHL’s bus is headed over the cliff and into the abyss of labour unrest in two years’ time.

But Fehr, who has been recommended for the NHLPA executive director’s job by a search committee of which he was a part, struck a remarkably moderate tone during a conference call with the media Saturday afternoon.

The union announced Saturday it had accepted the search committee’s recommendation that Fehr be the fifth executive director since the lockout in the 2004-05 season.

The 62-year-old’s candidacy will have to ratified by a vote of the entire union membership over the next few weeks, but that would appear to be a formality and Fehr, who ran the Major League Baseball Players' Association for better than 25 years, certainly was sounding like the job was his Saturday. He said he would likely carry the union through the next round of collective bargaining and beyond.

He begged off answering most of the most sensitive questions about salary caps, wielding the threat of a strike and drug testing by saying he needs to spend time with the players and find out what they think before he can address those issues.

But for those who fear Fehr will be quick to wield the threat of a strike in the next collective bargaining period, he said: “A strike is a last resort. You want to bargain in good faith and do everything you can to get the best agreement and you only come to it if there are no other viable options.

“I would also hope the people you are negotiating with also view a lockout or a work stoppage as a last resort.”

On the matter of him being in a conflict of interest since he was a member of the search committee that ultimately recommended him for the executive director’s job, Fehr said the only opinion that matters is that of his employers.

“It’s the players’ judgement to make,” he said.

The players' association has been a dysfunctional organization since the lockout marked by infighting, cliques and apathy among much of the rank and file.

Fehr said it is generally taken “as gospel,” among those in the sports labour industry that the only way for a players' association to have a sustained period of success is education. To that end, he will work at making sure the players understand the issues confronting them and get them involved in bargaining. He is going to launch a barnstorming tour through the league over the next few weeks.

Given the way Fehr successfully fought a salary cap in baseball, some have assumed that would be his first beachhead in the next negotiation with the NHL. But, again, Fehr struck a moderate note on the issue, pointing out that all sports have different economics.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean what works in one place will work in another,” he said.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he wouldn’t have a comment on Fehr’s candidacy “until the membership vote is complete.”

“The search committee is pleased that the executive board has endorsed our recommendation to select Don Fehr as our new executive director and we look forward to our fellow members voting on this important matter,” Mathieu Schneider, a member of the union’s search committee, said in a statement.

So, for the first steps of his administration, Fehr has chosen to walk softly.

But he still carries that big stick.


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