MONTREAL - Major junior hockey players have threatened to sue their leagues if they don't get minimum wage and benefits, QMI Agency has learned.
The Canadian Hockey League Players' Association, led by former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque, has served notice to owners and general managers of every team in the OHL, WHL and QMJHL.
The six-page letter on behalf of current and former players alleges "serious and ongoing violation" of labour, pension and employment insurance laws.
Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and CHL commissioner David Branch also got letters.
The players union was formed during the summer, as QMI Agency reported in August, after being in the works for a year.
Laraque says the fact the federal government considers junior hockey players to be employees means they're entitled to salaries and things like vacation pay.
"In reality, the players don't want to fight in court against the owners to have minimum wage," Laraque told QMI Agency.
"They simply want the best possible conditions."
The topic came up briefly at an OHL board of governors meeting in the summer, but Branch said it was only "speculation" and "rumours."
Junior hockey players, most of whom are 15 to 20 years of age, make up the majority of NHL draftees every year but they're not paid a full salary despite the for-profit nature of their teams.
Most players earn $35 to $50 a week -- an amount that hasn't changed for 50 years.
The player's lodging, schooling and food costs are covered by their team but the union also wants minimum wage, overtime, severance pay and other benefits.
Laraque says league officials have refused to discuss salary issues. He says players who have tried to raise the issue with their bosses have been subject to intimidation tactics.
"We have proof that certain players received threats," he said.
The former bruiser says current players have been meeting since the summer but would prefer to remain anonymous for now.
"I'm only doing what (players) asked me," Laraque said. "We have members everywhere in Canada and we'll let you know more about this soon."
In a response Friday evening, the CHL said it "vehemently disagrees" with Laraque's allegations.
"Our 60 clubs operate with the best interest of the players in mind, at all times," the CHL said in a statement. "It is estimated the net value, or investment, for each player in the league is $35,000-40,000 annually. This accounts for the education program, and the many other benefits provided by CHL member clubs."
The league also said it wants information on who is behind the CHLPA and wants a copy of its mandate before meeting with the union.
Meanwhile, Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Hockey Canada in Calgary, confirmed that the organization had received the letter and was reviewing it.
EXCERPTS FROM CHLPA LEGAL NOTICE IN ONTARIO:
"We are writing concerning the serious and ongoing violations by the OHL and all its member teams of the minimum employment legislative standards. More specifically, there have been, and continue to be, flagrant breaches of the Employment Standards Act (Ontario), the Canada Pension Plan and the Employment Insurance Act."
LETTER ALLEGES OHL HAS FAILED TO:
- Pay the players at least minimum wage
- Pay the players at least time and a half if they work more than 44 hours a week
- Pay the players vacation pay
- Pay the players holiday pay
- Pay the players severance pay
- Make CPP and EI contributions on players' behalf
"We will take the necessary legal action should the OHL or any team take any reprisal action, directly or indirectly, against any player(s) for exercising their legislative rights and remedies."
"Should you wish to resolve this matter please contact us immediately. Otherwise we have been instructed to redress these matters with legal intervention and will be doing so quite expeditiously."