CHL Player's union?

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Post #1 by CharlieGirl » Mon Oct 20, 2014 8:53 am

Just when you thought this might have gone away... Marty Williamson lies through his teeth and fucks over the CHL. Nice going, douchebag. Also, "hundreds of millions"... lol


An unprecedented class action lawsuit striking at the economic foundations of junior hockey in Canada alleges the Canadian Hockey League and its teams “conspired” to force young players into signing contracts that breach minimum wage laws.

A statement of claim filed in a Toronto court Friday and obtained by the Star, seeks $180 million in outstanding wages, vacation, holiday and overtime pay and employer payroll contributions for thousands of young players given as little as $35 a week for practices, games, training and travelling that could add up to more than full-time hours.

The league and its teams “conspired and agreed together . . . to act in concert to demand or require that all players sign a contract which the defendants knew was unlawful,” the claim alleges. “Such conduct was high-handed, outrageous, reckless, wanton, deliberate, callous, disgraceful, wilful and in complete disregard for the rights of the (players).”

The allegations have not been proved in court.

David Branch, president of the CHL, said Sunday that he hadn’t yet seen a copy of the lawsuit but said the league “will vigorously defend the way our teams operate.”

“Our position is our players are amateur student athletes and we provide the best playing experience to our 1,300 players. . . It’s important that we defend this because it could have a huge impact on all amateur sport in this country.”

The CHL, which is the governing body for 60 teams in three regional leagues across Canada and the United States — the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMHL) — is the primary training and development ground for the National Hockey League.

Players typically range in age from 16 to 20 and must all sign standardized contracts detailing almost identical terms.

Payment is fixed depending on the age of players and the league in which they play. In the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), for example, players are paid between $50 and $120 a week for what could be up to 65 hours of work with no provisions for overtime, vacation or holiday pay, the statement of claim says.

The league’s teams are “unjustly enriched” with “hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues annually” based on the services provided by their young players, the claim alleges.

The class action seeks an order requiring the leagues to “disgorge all profits that the (players) generated as a result of benefitting from breaches” of minimum wage legislation.

Sam Berg, the 18-year-old son of former Toronto Maple Leaf and long-time NHL player Bill Berg, is the representative plaintiff named in the claim.

“I believe that we’ve got a really big complaint with the way the players are treated across the league,” said the former OHL player in an interview. “I just really want to help. I know when I was in this situation I would have appreciated someone being there for me.”

Berg says his teammates and friends talk about their role in metaphor: “A lot of us see it like OHL players are used like racing greyhounds. (The league and team owners) use us until they can’t anymore and then kick us to the side.”

Berg signed with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs in 2013 at a weekly pay of $50 for what amounted to between 32 and 44 hours a week during September and October of last year, the statement claims.

After being sent down to play in Junior B hockey, a shoulder injury ended his career.

He later learned his contract — mandatory for playing in the league — was never forwarded to the OHL for approval while he was playing with the IceDogs, the statement claims.

It was later revised by the league, the statement alleges.

“Knowing that Sam was injured and could not play, the OHL approved the contract but reduced his tuition package from four years to half a year,” it alleges.

His father, Bill Berg, said: “I feel like I let my son down.”

“It was me that brokered this deal with the IceDogs in good faith. It was important to my wife and I that he get his education. They agreed to a four-year scholarship once he played a single game in the league. We assumed the contract was guaranteed.”

Marty Williamson, coach and general manager of the IceDogs, says Berg was the one who breached the contract by not showing up for training camp this fall.

“He quit. He didn’t fulfil his contract to play for us. It’s a guaranteed contact as long as you play for the hockey team. You can’t just quit and not show up.”

Sam Berg, now a student at McMaster University, says his injury made playing impossible.

“The reality is that this happened to me and we have to stop it from happening to somebody else. I hope we bring awareness to an issue that has been suppressed by the league. I hope kids that have a passion for the game won’t be exploited for it.”

The statement of claim takes sharp aim at the CHL’s “education package,” which provides scholarship funding to players who register in a recognized college or university program within 18 months of their last game in the league.

Those who choose to extend their hockey careers by signing with professional teams in Europe or North America after their CHL careers, or those that fail to maintain a certain grade point average, lose that funding.

Those restrictions make it “extremely difficult” for players to meet the requirements of the program, the statement claims.

“On average, a teams’ total annual payout for all players on the team is $30,000 a year toward the education package,” the statement reads. “This amount is equivalent to only four former players per team actually reaping the benefits of the education package.”

The CHL’s Branch denied the allegations in an interview.

“The restrictions around the educational package are not onerous. They’re very clear . . . We have the best scholarship program, we think, in this country, if not North America.”

Last year alone, the OHL and its 20 teams paid out more than $2 million in scholarship funding, he said.

“When you consider the care and treatment our players receive with our scholarship program, no costs for housing, billeting and expense allowances. I am surprised (by the lawsuit).”

The key legal issue at play in the dispute is whether teenage hockey players are employees in the traditional definition or the equivalent of low-paid interns training for professional positions.

CHL officials have long contended that they are not employees but independent contractors or amateur student athletes who are paid an allowance for their participation in a hockey program.

The statement of claim cites a 2000 legal decision from the Tax Court of Canada that delved into the relationship between a player and a WHL club.

“The court found that the team operated a commercial organization carrying on business for profit and that the players were employees,” the statement of claim reads. “Despite the Tax Court of Canada ruling made some fourteen years ago, the defendants have failed to rewrite the contract or pay wages in accordance with applicable employment standards legislation.”

Toronto lawyer Ted Charney, who filed the statement of claim on behalf of players, says he believes there’s a strong case.

“For goodness sake, at least pay the players minimum wage. Everyone else in the country has to do that. Why don’t they? They’re going to have to deal with this issue head on now.”

There appears to be growing legal opinion in Canada that elite young players in the CHL are, in fact, employees.

In July, Montreal law firm Sylvestre Fafard Painchaud wrote a letter to Unifor, obtained by the Star, advising one of Canada’s largest unions that a lawsuit against the CHL was legally viable.

After an analysis of the CHL player payments and working conditions, the firm concluded “the legal status of the junior hockey players with their respective team is certainly one of an employee, pending some exceptions. This likely triggers recourse in remedy for breach of statutory minimum wage provisions, as brought by the Employment Standard Act in Quebec or in Ontario.”

The league structure could be found to encompass “possible conspiracies, market restrictions, and abuse of dominance by the CHL and/or the teams. Yet, it remains unfairly detrimental to the economic interests of the junior hockey players,” the Montreal firm concluded. “We believe that filing a nationwide class-action lawsuit based on the antitrust provisions of the Competition Act and Canadian provinces’ labour legislation regarding minimum wage, would be the best approach.”

Unifor (which represents Star journalists among its 300,000 members) did not proceed with a lawsuit.

Instead, Unifor president Jerry Dias says he’s pushing the provincial government to establish a task force on junior hockey that will examine the treatment of players.

“There’s no question the CHL is violating minimum wage. These are for-profit organizations and there’s no rhyme or reason why they should be circumventing the laws on minimum wage.”

While the class action names the league and its teams, it could be expanded to name the directors of each club if they do not pay all outstanding wages, the statement reads.

The claim also seeks order restraining the league and its teams from “engaging in any form of reprisal” against players who participate in the suit.
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Post #2 by PredsFan77 » Mon Oct 20, 2014 1:53 pm

what do these kids need a union for? Their billet parents not letting them stay out past 10 pm? give me a break.
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Post #3 by CharlieGirl » Wed Oct 22, 2014 8:14 am

PredsFan77 wrote:what do these kids need a union for? Their billet parents not letting them stay out past 10 pm? give me a break.


This is not the union this time - it's a class action suit filed in Ontario and could ruin the CHL.
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Post #4 by Balki Bartokomous » Wed Oct 22, 2014 12:30 pm

It won't. They'll cite the case from 2000, it was 15 years ago, things have changed. They'll lose.
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Post #5 by clawfirst » Wed Oct 22, 2014 4:30 pm

ruin it how CG? 50$ a week(documented) earnings and boarding (free by billets) is kind of pathetic when you have a substantial paying fan base. Unless you are afraid of a "free agency/market" the evil empire teams like London could exploit(as if they don't already).

There should be a flat wage for all players and it has to be better than 50$ a week.
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Post #6 by PredsFan77 » Wed Oct 22, 2014 5:21 pm

sounds like the NCAA. They should make a CHL video game.
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Post #7 by clawfirst » Wed Oct 22, 2014 5:43 pm

Let's keep the plantation out of this
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Post #8 by CharlieGirl » Wed Oct 22, 2014 8:25 pm

clawfirst wrote:ruin it how CG? 50$ a week(documented) earnings and boarding (free by billets) is kind of pathetic when you have a substantial paying fan base. Unless you are afraid of a "free agency/market" the evil empire teams like London could exploit(as if they don't already).

There should be a flat wage for all players and it has to be better than 50$ a week.


Old info, Claw.

Players get up to $460 or $470 per month for non-hockey expenses in the OHL. In addition, the education package has been extended so that players have up to 18 months from the end of their overage year, regardless of when they stop playing in the league, and the only contract that nullifies it is an NHL contract. Players get free room and board, medical and dental coverage, training, team gear (not just playing equipment), plus the education package - and high level coaching and development that leads to a lucrative career for those who play in the NHL.

If teams are forced to pay minimum wage to players, you'll see a lot of teams fold - or you'll see some of the perks the players now enjoy clawed back or eliminated entirely. Neither option is good for the players.

Having said that, my biggest issue is that this is brought by lawyers who stand to earn a shit ton of money and couldn't give a rat's ass about the players. The initial complaint was a bubble player who may or may not have been lied to about his education package (for the record, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Williamson lied). It's the lawyer who took it from a one-off complaint that may be legit to a class action suit on behalf of the players. If you asked every single player in the league to choose between what they have now and what might happen in the future, my sense is that the overwhelming majority would say they're happy now.
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Post #9 by clawfirst » Wed Oct 22, 2014 8:50 pm

Why would we ask the players what they think, they are stupid kids chasing a dream? They have a job, and they aren't even making as much as someone on welfare.


" If teams are forced to pay minimum wage to
players, you'll see a lot of teams fold - or you'll
see some of the perks the players now enjoy
clawed back or eliminated entirely. Neither option
is good for the players."


I disagree with all of this. Any team that drops out improves the league talent pool. Those guys who no longer have a place drop to tier II, which now becomes an important level of hockey development.

Most of these children have health insurance anyway because hockey is fucking expensive, and their parents have it for them. Completely remove that from your equation.

Now I don't particularly care either way and haven't watched a CHL game since the st michaels majors were here, but let's not pretend this ruins the game. There is a lot of money in this league and the talent should get paid.
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Post #10 by Balki Bartokomous » Wed Oct 22, 2014 9:21 pm

clawfirst wrote:Why would we ask the players what they think, they are stupid kids chasing a dream? They have a job, and they aren't even making as much as someone on welfare.


" If teams are forced to pay minimum wage to
players, you'll see a lot of teams fold - or you'll
see some of the perks the players now enjoy
clawed back or eliminated entirely. Neither option
is good for the players."


I disagree with all of this. Any team that drops out improves the league talent pool. Those guys who no longer have a place drop to tier II, which now becomes an important level of hockey development.

Most of these children have health insurance anyway because hockey is fucking expensive, and their parents have it for them. Completely remove that from your equation.

Now I don't particularly care either way and haven't watched a CHL game since the st michaels majors were here, but let's not pretend this ruins the game. There is a lot of money in this league and the talent should get paid.


They're not remotely close to someone on welfare. A university education, which they're all entitled to is far more than they get paid. It's like being in the NCAA, you can take your package at any time, be in school and play. I've talked to a lot of players, and they're grown up faster than you can imagine, and understand what is going on and they're happy with what they get. Don't try and be a crusader just for the sake of it.
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Post #11 by MP » Thu Oct 23, 2014 9:57 am

I'm sure the teams would be happy to pay minimum wage, and leave the players to pay for their ice time, travel expenses, equipment, room and board, etc.
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Post #12 by Balki Bartokomous » Thu Oct 23, 2014 11:07 am

MP wrote:I'm sure the teams would be happy to pay minimum wage, and leave the players to pay for their ice time, travel expenses, equipment, room and board, etc.


Would end up costing them a lot more. Ideally would we like to pay and play them, sure. But the teams don't make so much excess that they can afford to do so. Junior players have it pretty sweet. Lets not pretend this is some slave show.
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Post #13 by RTWAP » Thu Oct 23, 2014 1:39 pm

The CHL can argue that they're all about developing players, but when they've put in place a system that prevents 19 year-olds from playing in the AHL, even though that's the best place for them, it weakens the argument that it's about development. It's really about selling tickets.
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Post #14 by MP » Thu Oct 23, 2014 1:46 pm

The other factor is nobody is forcing these kids to play in CHL. They could always go over and play in the khl...
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Post #15 by CharlieGirl » Thu Oct 23, 2014 4:09 pm

RTWAP wrote:The CHL can argue that they're all about developing players, but when they've put in place a system that prevents 19 year-olds from playing in the AHL, even though that's the best place for them, it weakens the argument that it's about development. It's really about selling tickets.


The AHL is best for some 19 year olds, yes. Some no. It also doesn't hurt a 19 year old kid to play that year in the CHL if he's not big/strong/good enough for the NHL. What it does do, however, is help with the development of 17 and 18 year olds (the same as that player was helped by playing against 19 year olds).

No question that the CHL is interested in selling tickets. They have player expenses and scholarships to fund whether there are 600 or 6,000 in the stands.
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Post #16 by RTWAP » Fri Oct 24, 2014 6:11 pm

Thomas Malthus wrote:Just a quick little calc:

4 years of tuition in Ontario if a player started this year is going to be about $32k. (Apply the 4.85% inflation rate in tuition prices taken from the period shown in the link to each additional year of education past 2014/15 as a rough estimate).

Divide that by 11 (minimum wage in Ontario) and you get the number of hours of labour purchased with that $32k: 2909.

Divide that by 30 to get your total weeks of full time labour purchased: 97 (using 40 hours it's 72).

Statistics Canada defines someone as full-year full time (footnote 1) if they work 49+ weeks per year at 30+ hours per week.

So the tuition program for someone starting right now is worth about 1.97 (1.47 using 40 hours) years of full-year, full-time employment at minimum wage.


It's good to figure that out. But you have to factor in that the kids aren't being paid in money. They're being paid in something they may or may not want. What percentage of eligible players actually receive the full benefit?

I don't find the argument that players benefit from development very persuasive. Anybody starting their first job will receive the benefit of experience, along with their pay. Unless they're incompetent they're worth more after a few years than they were in the beginning. That doesn't mean their employer can pay them less than minimum wage, or charge them for the privilege of being managed and trained effectively.
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Post #17 by Balki Bartokomous » Sat Oct 25, 2014 2:07 am

want money? Don't play. Simple as that.
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Post #18 by MP » Sun Oct 26, 2014 9:37 pm

SALVADOR GET OUT THERE! wrote:want money? Don't play. Simple as that.


Yep, I doubt they have trouble finding scab "labour"...
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Post #19 by CharlieGirl » Wed Oct 29, 2014 1:46 pm

Branch fires back:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2014/10/27/in_defence_of_junior_hockey_status_quo.html

Re: Pay young players, Editorial Oct. 26

In response to your argument that junior hockey players deserve to be paid decently, here is the other side of the story.

A number of years ago the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) made the decision to invest in the young men who play in our league. These investments, which average $30,000 per player per year, include leading programs in anti-doping and mental health, access to advisers on a range of health and education issues, equipment and room and board with billet families.

In addition the players receive a monthly expense allowance, which in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is $470 per player.

Our largest investment is the CHL’s education program, which is unsurpassed in Canadian sport. In 2013-14 there were 594 former players at Canadian universities at a cost to the CHL teams of over $6 million. Our education program includes a scholarship program for those players who do not play in the NHL – minimum payment to a player of one year tuition and books for each year played in the league at a recognized university, college or trade school.

For those players who attend post-secondary education while playing in the CHL, all costs are covered by the teams. In Ontario, the high school graduation rate of our players is 98 per cent, which is considerably higher than the provincial average.

The CHL is not a professional league. Our athletes are registered players in the Canadian amateur system with Hockey Canada. They are amateur student athletes not employees.

The CHL has some successful teams in larger markets and we are very proud of them. The vast majority of our teams operate in markets with populations less than 100,000.

This lawsuit may well change the face of junior hockey and all amateur sports in Canada to the disadvantage of Canada’s young athletes. The CHL will vigorously defend our player experience.

We continue to believe that our players deserve an investment in their development and future. Those actually in the league understand that weekly payments are not nearly as important as providing support to allow players to progress in hockey as far as talent and work ethic can allow while ensuring that there will be much needed financial support for an education.

In the end the success of our players on the ice and in every other career outside of hockey is the only evidence we need to know that our system has met its objectives.

David Branch, President, Canadian Hockey League
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Post #20 by Balki Bartokomous » Wed Oct 29, 2014 1:57 pm

The lawsuit is going to get smoked.
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Post #21 by CharlieGirl » Wed Oct 29, 2014 2:51 pm

SALVADOR GET OUT THERE! wrote:The lawsuit is going to get smoked.


Depends on who is hearing the lawsuit. Pro union or not...

I hope it gets blown clear out of the water, but I have my concerns.
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Post #22 by Balki Bartokomous » Wed Oct 29, 2014 2:57 pm

I'm not worried
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Post #23 by RTWAP » Wed Oct 29, 2014 11:00 pm



So the education program costs about $5K per player per year.

I wonder what the other $25K is from. Maybe $5K for the allowance. Maybe $2K in equipment. I assume billet costs are a big part of it. But in a league that drafts players and usually requires them to move away from their families I find it hard to justify that expense as occurring on behalf of the player. It serves a league mandate to have balance. Contrast that with U.S. colleges and recruitment. Players go where they want.

Just as a mental exercise, add up all the costs that a player might theoretically be able to cash out of (education program) and then take what's left and divide it up in proportion to whose interests it most serves, I think you end up with less than a minimum wage.

The whole situation is screwed up by the large profits of some teams. How does a league justify a draft in terms of anti-trust when there isn't a players association to sign off on it?
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Post #24 by CharlieGirl » Thu Oct 30, 2014 2:45 pm

I suspect education costs are higher than $5K per year - closer to $10K.

In the OHL, players get up to $470 per month, plus $1,000 for off season training. Roughly $4,500-$5,000 per player per year. I have no idea what the equipment cost per player is, but let's assume $2K. Players have access to a team of medical professionals (physio, massage, mental health, strength/conditioning, etc.). In addition to all that, they receive free room and board (personally, I can't imagine buying groceries for these guys - I'm sure the billets are the most underpaid component of junior hockey), complimentary tickets for family/friends/billets to home and away games, and may receive gas money if they drive teammates to/from practices and games.

There are a handful of teams in Canada making what could be considered "large" profits (although, if we're comparing it to an average business, it's nowhere near large). If we're basing everything on those 5 teams, then maybe an argument could be made that players are underpaid.

I don't know how the CHL has gotten around anti-trust legislation or whether those rules don't apply because it's amateur sport. There is enough draft manipulation now, that if the draft were forced to be eliminated, we might as well just get used to having 5 or 6 CHL teams because the rest can never compete.

The CHL has taken steps to improve, and need to continue to do so, but wiping out half the league is not the right answer in my mind. If this class action suit actually goes in front of a judge, and the judge finds for the player(s), the only ones who win are the lawyers and the one guy who wasn't good enough to be in the OHL.
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Post #25 by RTWAP » Thu Oct 30, 2014 6:23 pm

CharlieGirl wrote:I suspect education costs are higher than $5K per year - closer to $10K.

In the OHL, players get up to $470 per month, plus $1,000 for off season training. Roughly $4,500-$5,000 per player per year. I have no idea what the equipment cost per player is, but let's assume $2K. Players have access to a team of medical professionals (physio, massage, mental health, strength/conditioning, etc.). In addition to all that, they receive free room and board (personally, I can't imagine buying groceries for these guys - I'm sure the billets are the most underpaid component of junior hockey), complimentary tickets for family/friends/billets to home and away games, and may receive gas money if they drive teammates to/from practices and games.

There are a handful of teams in Canada making what could be considered "large" profits (although, if we're comparing it to an average business, it's nowhere near large). If we're basing everything on those 5 teams, then maybe an argument could be made that players are underpaid.

I don't know how the CHL has gotten around anti-trust legislation or whether those rules don't apply because it's amateur sport. There is enough draft manipulation now, that if the draft were forced to be eliminated, we might as well just get used to having 5 or 6 CHL teams because the rest can never compete.

The CHL has taken steps to improve, and need to continue to do so, but wiping out half the league is not the right answer in my mind. If this class action suit actually goes in front of a judge, and the judge finds for the player(s), the only ones who win are the lawyers and the one guy who wasn't good enough to be in the OHL.


Education costs $100K per team so that's about $5K per active player, per year.

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems like they would be on better ground if they actually formalized how much they spend to support players and make it something players opt into and then deduct if from their salaries. If a player wants to opt out of the $5K player education plan then they could do so. If they want to stay with family and pocket the billet fees then they could do that too. But that might not be in the player's best interests. It might be hard to convince a judge that the team should make those decisions for the player when the team is effectively the employer as well.
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Post #26 by RTWAP » Fri Oct 31, 2014 8:18 pm

Thomas Malthus wrote:I was simply doing the calculation, without providing any commentary.

You're absolutely correct in identifying that the league is essentially operating a voucher program for education. One of the criticisms of vouchers (and to be clear vouchers aren't an unambiguously bad idea in all cases) in economics is that consumers may not be able to reach the same level of utility (happiness/satisfaction) with vouchers as they would with a cash equivalent. The reason being that preferences in consumption and relative prices of goods and services are different for each consumer and result in different allocation of resources. Vouchers effectively prohibit certain allocations because they and money aren't fungible (can't resist an opportunity to use this word, it's so rare to get one!).

Your second point is interesting, especially if we consider the possibility of the league arguing that the players are interns. I'm not sure that the league would make that argument that as of right now that's one legal mechanism for not paying workers. The requirements in Ontario are outlined here.



Some of those conditions are met by the league but not all. So after looking at that information, it doesn't seem likely that the league would forward that argument after all. Now, I'm also not saying that I like unpaid internships, I was just exploring whether or not the league might use that argument. I thought it was interesting so I'll still post this instead of just deleting it.


That's an interesting viewpoint and analysis.

I wonder what defense they'll end up going with.

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