Junior hockey union targeting Cape Breton team

A new union looking to support major junior hockey players is making the rounds in the Maritimes.

Canadian Hockey League Player's Association has begun a drive to unionize 1,300 players

The newly organized Canadian Hockey League Player's Association has begun a drive to unionize 1,300 players and they're getting it started in Nova Scotia.

The group has applied to certify the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. The leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party said the CHLPA getting their drive started in Nova Scotia is no surprise.

Bobby Smith is the President of the Halifax Mooseheads. (CBC)
"In all of Canada it was Nova Scotia that was chosen for the start of the union drive and that is because we have an NDP government here who has passed legislation like first contract arbitration," said PC leader Jamie Baillie. "That has made Nova Scotia a playground for union drives."

Screaming Eagles management says there is no need for players to sign union cards.

"We treat our players well," said Screaming Eagles Chairman Stuart MacLeod. "We have a top notch education program, a billet program and a scholarship program over and above the league."

The CHLPA is also supporting 19 year old Josh Desmond of Musquodoboit Harbour. He's filed a complaint against the Halifax Mooseheads. Desmond played in 52 games as a defenceman with Halifax last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Desmond's complaint came as a surprise to Mooseheads management.

"He thought it was fine last year when he was playing on the team," said Halifax President Bobby Smith. "Once the CHLPA guys started talking to him he realized all the things he could have gotten so I thought that was quite telling."

Desmond alleges his former team owes him close to $12,000 if minimum wage standards applied to junior hockey. Desmond is playing this season in the Maritime Junior Hockey League with the Yarmouth Mariners.

Bobby Smith sees it differently.

"We maintain that the benefits we give our players from their stipend to room and board and education and tutors are far more valuable than what minimum wage would be," said Smith.

Baillie said the Player's Association hopes to sign enough Screaming Eagles team members to certify a union by the end of this week.

The lawyer for the CHLPA said the organizing drive is more about protecting educational benefits than it is about the money.

The Canadian Hockey League, which governs 60 teams in Canada and the United States, including the Screaming Eagles and Mooseheads, issued a statement saying it regards players as "amateur student athletes".