Westhead: Govt. to decide on examining OHL's work conditions

Rick Westhead, TSN Senior Correspondent
7/29/2014 7:09:11 PM
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The Ontario government will decide within a few weeks whether to form a task force to examine working conditions for players in the Ontario Hockey League, said the president of Canada's largest private-sector union.

Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, met for an hour on Tuesday afternoon at Queen's Park with the provincial labour and sports ministers.

Dias called the talks "extremely positive" and said he pressed his argument that junior hockey has flourished as an industry and its players deserve to share a bigger piece of the profits.

Dias said Unifor is involved with the effort partially because it would help its public image.  He said the union would work pro bono for players or charge them a symbolic fee, perhaps $1 per month.

Canadian Hockey League commissioner David Branch has said players don't receive more than modest stipends because they are considered student athletes.  Many of the 1,300 mostly-teenaged players in the CHL qualify for educational scholarship packages, he said.

Branch did not immediately respond to phone or text messages.

Also Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania governor's office said the state's labour laws offer an exemption from minimum wage laws for employees who work in entertainment and recreational jobs.

"We are unaware of any authority specifically applying the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act to athletes," said Sara Goulet, the spokeswoman. "However, even if they could be viewed as employees, both state and federal law contains minimum wage/overtime exemptions for public amusement and recreational establishments that operate on a seasonal basis. This exemption has been invoked in law suits by non-athlete employees against professional sports teams, with varying results depending on the teams' length of operations and revenues during the course of the year."

Still, Goulet said players for the Eric Otters - the only CHL team in her state - may qualify as child labour.  If they do, a number of different statutes might apply to their employment.

Award-winning journalist Rick Westhead is TSN's Senior Correspondent for TSN's platforms - TSN, TSN Radio, and TSN GO.
He has covered a wide variety of sports issues for a slate of leading publications, among them the Toronto Star, Bloomberg News, Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, New York Times, and Saturday Night Magazine. Earlier this year, Westhead was part of a team that won the prestigious Project of the Year at the National Newspaper Awards. He was also honoured with the Toronto Star's Reporter of the Year Award in 2007.

Share your comments with Rick Westhead on Twitter at @rwesthead.

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