Thursday: More news on litigation than negotiation so far

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman leaves following labor talks

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman leaves following labor talks in New York on Nov. 9, 2012. (Credit: AP)

The waiting continues.

In what appeared to be a sideways step in the NHL’s labor talks today, as maneuvering superseded bargaining while the league and NHLPA remained mostly apart after a short face-to-face session with a federal mediator that ended at 1 a.m.  

It was unclear whether there would even be a full bargaining session at NHL offices in Manhattan last night as the activity on the 110th day of the lockout was more about litigation than negotiation while the clock ticked on a deadline to salvage a season. Some players arrived on Sixth Avenue at 6 p.m, but it was believed to be for a small group session, the second of the day, on the pension issue..              

Commissioner Gary Bettman repeatedly has said that the point of no return is a 48-game season that would start on Jan. 19, and the urgency is evident, even if the results so far are mixed.  Stumbling blocks include how to fund pensions if revenues sink and a salary cap for 2013-14. The league wants $60 million; the players proposed $65 million. The NHL reportedly did agree on two compliance buyouts per team prior to the 13-14 season; that money would not count against the cap, but be counted against the union's share of the revenue split.

To keep pressure on the league to negotiate, Donald Fehr, the union's executive director and the PA's executive board asked for a revote among the more than 700 players to re-affirm the authorization of filing a disclaimer of interest starting at 6 p.m. last night and to be completed in 48 hours.

The players had voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 21 to give the board the power to disclaim, dissolve the union and form a trade association, which would allow players to file anti-trust suits, a tactic employed by the NBA in 2011.

But yesterday's self-imposed midnight deadline passed without the union notifying the NHL of a disclaimer, so a re-vote would be required.  Commissioner Gary Bettman said late Wednesday the word "disclaimer" had not been mentioned in the CBA discussions.

The union also filed a motion in U.S. District court in New York, which was required by Jan. 7, seeking to dismiss the league's mid-December suit to have the lockout declared legal.  The union argued that the NHL is using the suit "to force the players to remain in a union. Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under ... the National Labor Relations Act."  Judge Paul A. Englemayer scheduled a status conference on Monday morning.

After a week of exchanging four proposals and closing the gap on some issues, the day began poorly. Federal mediator Scot (cq) Beckenbaugh met for about an hour with NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and a small group of players at league offices yesterday morning to resolve a dispute over changed language lessening fines for teams who “hide” hockey-related revenues. The players were said to be not at all pleased by the league’s move, souring the trust between the sides.

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