Donald Fehr is the executive director of the NHL players' association. (Chris Young / Associated…)
It was only a matter of time before hockey's labor dispute moved from multiple unproductive bargaining sessions to multiple legal filings.
The NHL laid the groundwork in not one but two forums Friday, filing a class-action complaint in federal court in New York, aiming to confirm the legality of its lockout. The league also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board targeting a possible union move to dissolve itself.
Those moves were anticipated and all about location, location, location. Following the lead of the NBA's action last year, the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, an often-friendly venue to sports leagues and widely known to be pro-employer.
The NHL issued a release that said, in part, "by threatening to 'disclaim interest,' the NHLPA has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process and conduct that constitutes bad faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act."
The NHLPA responded with a statement late Friday that it believed the NHL's position was "completely without merit." It had not been served with the lawsuit but said that the NHL "appears to be arguing that players should be stopped from even considering their right to decide whether or not to be represented by a union."
Earlier, reports surfaced that the players' union has been contemplating dissolution by filing a "disclaimer of interest," which differs from decertification. Aaron Ward of TSN reported that the NHLPA's executive board voted to give the membership a vote to authorize the board to choose whether to proceed on disclaimer of interest.
"The primary advantage is speed," said Dana Kravetz, managing partner of the law firm Michelman & Robinson and a specialist in employment counseling and litigation. "The union is walking away from its right to represent the players. This [disclaimer of interest] is much faster and more informal than decertification, which requires a vote."
NBA players last year filed a disclaimer of interest in mid-November and, despite gloomy declarations of doom, it only took a dozen more days to reach a tentative collective bargaining agreement. The NBA's season started on Dec. 25.
"I do not believe negotiations stop," Kravetz said. "In fact, I believe the negotiations may intensify with a disclaimer of interest. When the day is done, you have to believe the players want to get back on the ice."