NHL, players' union make legal moves as lockout fight transitions to courts

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 15, 2012 

CANES06.SP.111412.CCS

The Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal, left, Jay Harrison, center, and Cam Ward confer during a pick-up game as some of the Carolina Hurricanes players practice on their own at Raleigh Center Ice in Raleigh, NC on Nov. 14, 2012. The NHL is still not playing because of a labor dispute.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

The NHL's collective bargaining battle now has become a legal battle.

The league on Friday filed a Class-Action Complaint in federal court in New York, asking for a declaration confirming the legality of the NHL lockout. The league said it was a "response to information" it had received that the union's executive board had unanimously approved allowing the membership to vote to authorize the board to file a "disclaimer of interest."

A disclaimer of interest would allow the union to dissolve, enabling players to file class-action antitrust suits against the league.

The NHL also on Friday filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the National Labor Relations Board. It charged the NHLPA, in a threat to "disclaim interest," with engaging in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process that constitutes bad-faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.

If the union were to be dissolved, the league could be found liable for lost player wages during the lockout. A disclaimer of interest also is a quicker legal maneuver than decertification of the union, which could take months.

The vote by the NHLPA's executive board was first reported Friday by TSN's Aaron Ward, a former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, and later confirmed by ESPN and other news outlets.

The NHLPA did not comment on the reports or confirm that any vote by the executive board had been taken.

A year ago, the NBA Players Association filed a disclaimer of interest against the NBA during their collective bargaining squabble. The NBA lockout ended 11 days later.

The NHL’s filings Friday were considered preemptive moves. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman updated the league’s board of governors last week on the possibility of the union filing a disclaimer of interest.

Friday marked the 90th day of the NHL lockout. All regular-season games through Dec. 30 have been canceled and the entire 2012-2013 season remains in jeopardy of being canceled.

Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison was asked Friday morning -- hours before the NHL's filings -- about the union considering decertification or a disclaimer of interest.

"That will continue to be something to look at," Harrison said. "We don't know when the opportunity to do that will arise. When it does we will make a decision as a group whether that's in our best interest to do. It's our right to do, if we choose to."

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