NHLPA to fight lockout in Canada

NEW YORK -- With a lockout looming this weekend, the players'
union is turning to Canadian provincial law to try to prevent a lockout.

Players from the Montreal Canadiens are appealing to the Quebec Labour Board to stop a potential work stoppage. Through a Montreal-based lawyer, the group has already sent a "cease and desist" letter to the team and the league in advance of the impending lockout.

A hearing before Alberta's board was canceled the night before, according to the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

The NHL has stated its intent to lock the players out if no deal is reached by Sept. 15, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

"As players we want to play. More than anything, the desire to play is what's guiding us," Habs defenseman Josh Gorges said on a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. "The owners, on the other hand, seem determined to impose a lockout. And so the players are going to use every tool at our disposal to stop them. Nothing is more destructive to bargaining than a lockout."

The NHLPA is not recognized as a certified union under Quebec provincial law, and as such, the Canadiens players will appeal to the Quebec Labour Board this week in an attempt to derail the lockout.

Should the players receive a positive ruling in their favor, they would be able to draw paychecks, as well as practice and train as usual in preparation for the upcoming season.

It remains unclear exactly why the Alberta hearing was canceled. According to the NHLPA, the NHL withdrew its application for the hearing although the league sees it differently.

"We are pleased that the League has decided to withdraw its application," said Don Zavelo, the NHLPA's General Counsel. "We believe they can no longer claim that their threatened lockout is one that would be permitted under the laws of Alberta."

However, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league has been told that the union "agrees with our view that the Alberta Labour Code does not govern our dispute."

According to Gorges, the group's intent is also to put pressure on the other owners throughout the league.

"Even though it's only three teams that may be involved in this, it may put pressure on other teams to say, 'You know what? These guys are getting ready. They're practicing, they're getting themselves ready to play. Maybe we should have our players do the same sort of thing,' "
Gorges said. "It's unfortunate that it's not the same laws in every city, but I think it gives us the opportunity to put pressure on the owners to get a deal done so other teams can join us and we can start playing."

When asked if the players were concerned that this action could stall negotiations -- formal discussions have been recessed since Friday, August 31 -- fellow Habs player Mathieu Darche questioned the league's willingness to negotiate.

"We're here and willing to negotiate. They're the one that brought up the lockout. They're the ones that are threatening the lockout. We're in New York, we're ready to talk, but they're not in New York, so we're doing our part of what we have to do to negotiate," he said.
"Unfortunately, that's why we're doing this thing, because we have to take all avenues in case they lock us out."

Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Daly were not in New York Monday morning -- both attended, as they do each year, the annual officials camp in Ontario.

"We sat around all weekend waiting for the Union. Nothing," Daly told ESPNNewYork.com via email. "Obviously, a different agenda.

Lines of communication between the two sides have remained open, however, even since the formal discussions broke down. NHLPA executive Steve Fehr and Daly have maintained regular correspondence -- in-person and through email -- throughout negotiations.

In addition to taking formal actions in Quebec, the union has also reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Labour and is "exploring its options" with regards to British Columbia and Manitoba.

However, the union has not yet filed any official charges to the National Labor Relations Board in the U.S., two sources told ESPNNewYork.com.

When asked about the league's response to the union's actions, Daly said: "Different arguments in different provinces. All inconsequential other than to impede and delay bargaining process."

The upcoming week promises to be a critical one for the two sides with a labor stoppage looking imminent this weekend.

The NHLPA will hold player meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in New York, while the Board of Governors will convene on Thursday.

The players have repeatedly rebuffed the Sept. 15th as a drop-dead date. They have expressed their desire to keep playing while bargaining continues, although the league does not appear willing to entertain that option.

"A lockout should be a last resort," Gorges said, "but the owners are treating it as their preferred option."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.