Junior hockey union is offside
Here we go again.
There's another attempt being made to unionize Canadian junior hockey players, including the young athletes who lace up the skates in the Ontario Hockey League. Unifor is Canada's biggest private sector union, representing employees ranging from auto workers to newspaper writers, and the organization is now trying to convince junior hockey players to punch their union cards. A similar plan was launched two years ago before fizzling out, but Unifor is holding a meeting in Montreal this week in hopes of taking another stab at it.
South of the border there's also a move afoot to unionize U.S. college athletes, with a recent federal ruling declaring athletes at Northwestern University have the right to unionize; a ruling a group of college presidents is now appealing.
I've never been a big fan of unions. I was part of one early in my broadcast career and from what I observed the union spent way too much time protecting the rights of lazy and lousy workers, and the monthly dues seemed to be just another way to siphon off more money from employees.
Union proponents, of course, are quick to argue that employees deserve their fair slice of the pie. In the case of junior hockey and U.S. college athletics, union boosters point out the huge cash flow created by fans who flock to hockey arenas and football stadiums. The London Knights, for instance, regularly sell out the 9,000 seats at their mini-NHL rink in addition to peddling hotdogs, beer and souvenirs to their hockey-crazed fan base.
But while the Knights are an obvious success story, other OHL teams aren't so lucky. The Brampton Battalion were forced to move to North Bay last season after years of poor attendance and the Mississauga Steelheads are an example of another OHL franchise that has to bite and scratch for every buck just to stay alive.
Still, union boosters say junior hockey players are being "exploited" by owners who aren't coughing up enough compensation for their mostly teen-age work force. However, having played junior 'A' hockey at the provincial level and touring around the country as a junior hockey play-by-play broadcaster in all three major junior hockey leagues, I saw little evidence of players being mistreated. Free meals, spending money, room and board, all the hockey equipment you could ever want, education money once your career is over.....just a few examples of the perks and privileges that come with playing junior hockey in Canada.
As a hockey fan, meanwhile, watching kids play the game before signing multi-million dollar NHL contracts is a big part of the appeal of junior hockey. There's a purity and passion that goes with the junior game; qualities that would be diminished by the presence of a powerful union demanding its members "get what's coming to them".
But Canadian junior hockey players already receive their fair share - the chance to fulfill a dream, learn a ton of valuable life lessons, and prepare for the opportunity to cash in on their talents if they're good enough to move on to the NHL.
Seems like a pretty solid deal to me.