Sunday, November 18, 2012

Legal opinion

I had a chat with a lawyer the other day, and not because I was in any trouble with the law. I was interested in a good opinion about the NHL lockout, and he has a great deal of experience in dealing with the ins and outs from a legal perspective of a labor dispute.

He's not much of a hockey fan, so I had to explain some of the particulars of this case. His first question was why there was a lockout in the first place, since that's a last resort in most industries. I explained that almost 20 years ago the players figured out that they make their money in the regular season and the owners make their money in the playoffs, so it was better to go on strike in April rather than do it in September when the collective bargaining agreement expired. The owners, therefore, have called for lockouts to prevent that from happening.

Then we got into the particulars. I said how the owners had been giving up 57 percent of hockey revenues to the players, and wanted that share to drop down to 43. The legal expert was pretty stunned about that sort of drop. Then I pointed out that they seemed to compromise at a 50-50 divide a few weeks ago.

"So they are about ready to settle then?" he asked.

Well, no, I explained. There are all sorts of other issues that haven't been resolved. And our lawyer was not impressed.

He sort of wondered if the owners in this case had an alternative goal to just getting a better CBA. That could go in a number of directions, including breaking or intimidating the union for the long term.

But failing that, he concluded that there should be absolutely no way that, if the owners and players were anxious to work things out, it couldn't be done quickly at this point. The hard part was decided a while ago; the rest is just details. Yes, there are millions of dollars at stake, but there are ways to get to a fair compromise in such a situation with a little work.

That's about what I thought, but nice to hear it well presented by someone with legal training. It also means to me that there is still hope for some sort of hockey season in the coming months. It obviously won't be a full season, but they could pick up a 48-game season sometime in January and have a full playoff run. They did it before in the 1990s.

That's probably the next deadline, and deadlines lead to deals. And if we go sailing past that date, the owners and players will be trying to figure out what 50 percent of nothing is. You do the math.

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