After nearly four months of on-again, off-again negotiations, players and owners in the National Hockey League have finally agreed to a tentative labor deal that will end a management-imposed lockout that entered its 114th day on Monday.
The NHL’s lawyers from Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher Flom finally reached an agreement with their counterparts at the National Hockey League Players’ Association in the early morning hours of Sunday, January 6, after a marathon 16-hour negotiation session that involved emissaries shuttling between league headquarters and union advisers camped out three blocks away in the Grand Ballroom of the Sofitel New York Hotel.
After a quick two-hour nap, the NHL’s outside counsel and their in-house counterparts returned to the tedious task of drafting a 10-year contract with the NHLPA that will split league revenues 50-50 between players and owners. The agreement also ensures labor peace until 2020, and averts the potentially catastrophic cancellation of the NHL season, just eight years after the league scuttled an entire year of play during its last period of collective bargaining unrest.
Leading the legal team for the NHL on its negotiations with players are Proskauer labor and employment partners L. Robert Batterman and Joseph Baumgarten, and Skadden antitrust practice leader Shepard Goldfein and partners James Keyte and Paul Eckles. Last month both firms were on hand for the league when it filed a lawsuit and unfair labor practice charge against the NHLPA.
Only a few weeks ago the possibility of a deal between warring players and owners was so dire that ice hockey?starved websites?usually busy this time of year covering top teams and star goaltenders, wingers, and defensemen?were forced to transition to posting fictitious drafts of top legal advisers to both sides.
The NHLPA is led by executive director Donald Fehr, a former longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association and a disciple of the legendary sports labor union leader Marvin Miller, who passed away in late November at 95. Fehr retired from the MLBPA in 2009, and pro hockey players elected him as their head the following year to take a hard line against owners ahead of negotiations on a new deal to replace the old collective bargaining contract that expired in September 2012.
The Toronto-based NHLPA turned to Montreal’s Melancon, Marceau, Grenier Sciortino and Edmonton’s Blair Chahley for preliminary legal skirmishes that month against the league in Quebec and Alberta that were aimed at declaring any potential lockout illegal under Canadian law. Those efforts were for the most part unsuccessful, and Heenan Blaikie and McLennan Ross took the lead advising the New York?based NHL on proceedings north of the border, according to our previous reports.
In December, The Am Law Daily reported on the NHLPA’s retention of Weil, Gotshal Manges litigation cochair James Quinn and partner Bruce Meyer to represent it in a suit filed by the league in Manhattan before U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr litigation partner appointed to the bench in 2011. (The American Lawyer named Engelmayer one of its federal judges to watch this past fall.)
On January 3, Weil filed a motion to dismiss the league’s case against the union. The NHLPA had already begun the process of dissolving itself as a union so its rank-and-file could proceed with an antitrust suit against the NHL and its owners, a process tried in recent years with varying degrees of success by players in the National Football League and National Basketball Association.
But last week, NHL players and their union representatives reportedly let pass a self-imposed deadline for decertification and let Scot Beckenbaugh, deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, act as a key intermediary with league owners and management.