And so it begins. Happy days are here again — for the lawyers.
The death spiral of applications to the labour board, followed by counter-claims and counter-suits is underway.
It’s all billable lawyer hours of course, and certainly not about negotiating anything.
It seems to me when it comes to the NHL dispute, mob rule has taken over. There is a blindness associated with mobs. And mobs tend not to be the most pragmatic.
The parties seem to have lost the idea of the greater good.
No matter how close they seem to get, they can never finally agree.
No one is going to tell these guys what to do. They’ve taken up the torches and are marching on the castle.
There really is no logical reason for the way this thing has played out the way it has. There is no reason for the scorched earth mentality. How can we explain it?
I’m not a psychologist, but I have dealt with groups and individuals in crisis in the workplace.
What I’ve noticed is the longer a situation goes on, the more narrowly focused people become.
So enraged are they by the situation they find themselves in, they have difficulty sorting friend from enemy, and solution from problem.
We have not been in the rooms when the players are talking or the league board of directors is meeting, but we can certainly see the outcomes.
We can imagine the level of bravado and vitriol — "to hell with them if they won’t give us what we demand."
Instead of attempting to bring resolution, we now see a hardening of positions. Instead of looking for expedited ways to bring an end to the dispute, we see the parties actually making it harder.
The parties have put offers on the table, only to have them consistently rejected rather than bargained.
'Disclaimer of interest'
The league has also made a routine of walking away and pulling their previous offers off the table.
The players are taking the first steps to take the union out of the picture through the so-called "disclaimer of interest."
That's a legal term meaning, essentially, that the union as an entity no longer exists and does not represent the players.
To be clear, it's not a declaration of non-confidence in union leadership by the players.
It's an instrument within U.S. labour law to pave the way for proceedings to determine whether the owners are in violation of anti-trust laws.
In other words, once there is no bargaining partner, are the owners in collusion?
The league responded with court filings accusing the players of bargaining in bad faith with this "threat."
It is all another scorched earth approach. It is a sledge hammer when kid gloves are called for. If they proceed down this path, bargaining will be set aside while processes before the Labour Board and the courts take over.
This dispute will end one day. And while there may be no clear winner, there will be lots of losers.
Resolution will come from leadership, the person or people who declare enough is enough.
We can’t see it now and don’t know where it will come from, but when it ends it will end quickly. Let’s hope irreparable harm has not been done.
Dan Oldfield is the lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild, a former journalist, and a longtime hockey fan.