By Eric Macramalla
The Quebec labor board on Friday made its ruling in connection with the NHLPA's attempt to block an NHL lockout in Quebec on the basis that it's unlawful.
The NHLPA's position was that since it was not certified as a union in Quebec, Montreal Canadiens players could not be locked out. Under Quebec law, only employees of a certified union can be locked out.
So who won?
No one, really, but maybe the NHL by just a bit.
The arbitrator rejected the NHLPA's request to have an NHL lockout ruled unlawful. However, the arbitrator also indicated another hearing would take place in a few weeks to more fully assess the substance of the NHLPA's claim.
Under Quebec labor law, a party can request an emergency hearing before the labor board for, well, emergencies. The NHLPA made that request facing the Sept. 15 lockout deadline, and got its hearing.
By moving on an emergency basis, the NHLPA had to make a compelling case as to why a lockout in Quebec should be blocked. Absent a compelling case, it can be tough to get, on an expedited basis, the type of dramatic relief requested by the NHLPA.
So based on the available information and arguments, the arbitrator elected not to rule, and sent the matter down for a more thorough analysis in a few weeks. This means the NHL was indeed successful; however, the matter isn't resolved. This is just a temporary win, so to speak.
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That said, the NHLPA still faces challenges in the case. Not only can an uncertified Quebec union not be locked out, it also can't strike. However, the union did strike in 1992. As well, it did not contest the lockouts in 1994 and 2004. So on its face, its current position seems at odds with the union's previous conduct. As a result, the union will have some explaining to do.
There also may be an argument that the NHL CBA provides the league with a legal right to lock out the players outside the operation of Quebec law.
Ultimately, whatever the result of the labor hearings, don't expect it to affect the NHL's position on the core economic issues at play, or somehow pressure the league into a deal it doesn't want to make. Practically speaking, even a decision rendered in favor of the players would just mean the Montreal Canadiens players would remain employees of the club and be paid. It would not somehow push the league as a whole back to playing games.
As we have seen in the recent NBA and NFL lockouts, a deal is brokered at the bargaining table and little is gained by taking a case to court or before specialized legal tribunals. At best, it's an unnecessary distraction.
Eric Macramalla is a partner at a Canadian law firm and also a sports lawyer and legal analyst. You can follow him on Twitter at @EricOnSportsLaw; his sports law blog is OffsideSportsLaw.com. Macramalla has covered the legal side of all major sports stories, including the NFL and NBA lockouts, the Saints' Bounty Gate scandal, Barry Bonds' and Roger Clemens' perjury trials, the Ilya Kovalchuk dispute and the Jerry Sandusky case.