SUN Hockey Pool

Alberta labour board reserves decision on Oilers and Flames NHL lockout appeal

Oilers forward Eric Belanger speaks to the media during an Alberta Labour Relations Board session...

Oilers forward Eric Belanger speaks to the media during an Alberta Labour Relations Board session in Edmonton, Alta., Sept. 21, 2012. (IAN KUCERAK/QMI Agency)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:15 AM ET

EDMONTON - All’s quiet on the Western front.

The evidence is presented, the cases are rested and victory in the latest NHL-NHLPA battleground will be decided by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

Just not yet.

A tedious marathon session in a downtown Edmonton hearing room Friday saw lawyers for both sides dissect the Alberta Labour Code and the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreements with meticulous detail while debating whether or not it’s legal to lock out Oilers and Flames.

In the end, nearly 11 hours after the hearing began, ALRB chairman Mark Asbell said he’ll need time to digest the arguments and render a decision.

“It’s always difficult in these types of arguments,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who took the stand in the league’s defence of the NHLPA challenge. “This will come down to a legal interpretation of the Alberta labour code.”

The gist of the dispute boils down to Alberta labour code protocol — the PA says the league didn’t follow it, the league says it doesn’t have to.

Under provincial law, an employer and a union are required to meet with a mediator and try to reach an agreement, and if that doesn’t work, there is a mandatory 14-day cooling off period before the workers can be locked out.

That didn’t happen in the case of NHLPA v. NHL.

“Our lawyer is making our position very clear,” said Daly. “We’ve had a long-standing collective bargaining agreement that has not been governed by Alberta labour code.

“In this case we got to a point where I thought we had an understanding ... that the Alberta Labour code didn’t apply.”

The union says it does. NHLPA lawyer Robert Blair argued that the laws in Alberta are binding, and that’s that.

“We’re supposed to be applying our labour code to our citizens, people who work in this province,” he told the hearing. “These are Alberta companies carrying on substantial business in this province

“There is no possibility of (a lockout) being lawful. You can’t take away rights from my individual clients.”

NHL lawyer Peter Gall, meanwhile, said the league doesn’t bargain with individual teams on any CBA issues. He says the current work stoppage is the NHL locking out all of its players under the umbrella of the league and in accordance with the CBA and U.S. labour laws, not owners in Edmonton and Calgary locking out the Flames and Oilers.

“If we get involved with one team it’s going to interfere with the league-wide relationship,” said Gall, stressing there cannot be two sets of rules, one for Alberta and one for the other 28 teams. “It’s going to do harm to the league-wide relationship. Common rules governing teams and players are essential to running the NHL.”

In quoting from the existing CBA preamble, Gall noted there is “only to be negotiating between the NHL and the NHLPA.”

The Edmonton Oilers showed up to support their side. At least for the morning session. Ryan Jones, Devan Dubnyk, Ryan Smyth, Jeff Petry, Eric Belanger, Nick Schultz and Sam Gagner didn’t return after lunch to take in the afternoon session. Several Flames were also listed as complaintants, but none of them came up to Edmonton for the hearing.

The NHLPA isn’t arguing that they can’t be locked out, only that the league didn’t follow proper protocol. So, if the ruling goes against the league, it could simply begin the proper protocol and lock them out legally in about two weeks.

They’ll likely appeal, first

“There’s a couple of different options we’d have to consider if that happens, but I don’t anticipate it happening,” said Daly. “And I don’t anticipate this whole procedure having any impact on what’s going on at the (CBA) bargaining table.”

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ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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