In the past couple of days, NHLPA head Donald Fehr spoke at a meeting of the Canadian Auto Workers union. In his remarks, Don outlined all the things that his union has in common with the CAW, and it has been reported in the media he received a standing ovation from the audience. Apparently the membership of the CAW have been too busy building cars to pay much attention to the NHL. Had they looked up from the assembly line long enough to acknowledge the mere existence of the NHL, not only would they be aware that comparing the NHLPA to the CAW is pretty much like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Ford Fiesta, they would likely be insulted by the comparison. A typical NHL player has virtually nothing in common with a typical auto worker, whether that be in daily life in general, or in their labour relations with their employer in particular.
Let's look at the obvious difference first. Money. Show me any union, outside of professional sports, where the average member makes a seven figure income. Now, I know what you are thinking. "Hey, that's an average. Averages are deceiving. What about some real numbers." Okay, here are some real numbers, comparing NHL players to CAW members working for Ford, within the CBA put in place this past September.
The minimum salary in the NHL, based on last year's numbers: $525,000 (up $25,000 from the previous year)
The minimum salary paid to a CAW member at Ford: $41,600 (down $8320 from the previous CBA)
What that means: The poorest paid NHL player makes over 12.5 times more money than the poorest paid auto worker.
The highest NHL salary: $12 million (Brad Richards, NY Rangers)
The highest Ford auto worker/CAW member salary: $70,720 (after 10 years of service, up from 6 in the last CBA)
What that means: The highest paid NHL player makes over 169 times more money than the highest paid auto worker. Put another way, Brad Richards makes more in one season than 4 auto workers combined can make, once they reach top rate, in their careers.
Another difference between the NHLPA and the CAW? Mobility. Show me any union, outside of pro sports, where it's members can go work for a competitor, and be protected by the same CBA. Outside of times like now, where a new CBA is being negotiated, NHL teams compete with one another. They compete on the ice. They compete for player talent. They compete for fans, and the money they spend. But, a player, once he becomes a UFA, can go from one team to another, safe in the knowledge that the terms and conditions of the current CBA follows him. Not so with a CAW member. If he or she decides to leave Ford and go work for GM, he or she may still be a CAW member, but a different CBA awaits.
The biggest difference between the NHLPA and the CAW (as if the money wasn't enough)? Show me any union, outside of pro sports, where the union member has all the benefits and protections of collective bargaining and union membership, but has the ability to negotiate his own terms of employment. (This is, by and large, the root of the problem the NHL currently finds itself in.) In the auto industry, a worker's terms of employment are fully defined by his/her CBA. Not so in the NHL. The CBA expires, but individual contracts extend beyond the CBA. Competing teams use the CBA loopholes to force other teams into offering individual contracts beyond reason. (Yes Philly, we're talking Shea Weber here.) Ford knows it's going to pay it's top workers $71K, but Lord knows what Malkin is going to get when he becomes a UFA. An NHL player can reach a stage in his career where he's going to sit a listen to offers, but an auto worker is pretty much hoping he or she has a plant to go to work at that hasn't been shut down.
So; sorry to disagree with you Mr. Fehr, but you are living in the same dream world as your millionaire constituents. All of us out in the real world who love hockey and pay hard earned money to buy tickets, or NHL Center Ice, or our favorite team's sweater, just hope you and the players come to realize that CAW members had to make some concessions in September to ensure they had jobs to go to, and so should you. That's why they should have sat in stunned silence when you finished your speech, not quite sure if they heard you right.