MANHATTAN (CN) - The National Hockey League and all its teams sued the NHL players' union in Federal Court, trying to head off an anticipated antitrust lawsuit in the 92-day lockout.
The owners' lockout looks increasingly likely to wipe out the entire 2010-13 season.
Members of the players' union are voting on whether to give up their collective-bargaining rights.
The owners view that as prelude to an antitrust lawsuit, and asked the court to declare it "an impermissible bargaining tactic."
"This action arises from the union's threatened use of antitrust litigation to extract more favorable terms and conditions of employment in ongoing collective bargaining
negotiations with the NHL," the owners' 43-page federal complaint begins. "In recent days, many union members have publicly asserted that they intend to decertify the union, or vote in favor of the union's renouncing or 'disclaiming interest' in its role as the exclusive bargaining representative of NHL players, an impermissible bargaining tactic defendants mistakenly believe would enable them to commence an antitrust
lawsuit challenging the legality of the NHL's ongoing lockout of NHL players and thereby to pressure the NHL to accede to the union's preferred outcome in collective bargaining. Last night [Thursday, Dec. 13], the NHLPA Executive Committee authorized that a vote be taken over the next four days on whether to authorize the union's leadership to disclaim interest in its role as the exclusive bargaining representative of NHL players so that the NHL players could commence antitrust
litigation against the NHL in order to secure a more favorable collective bargaining agreement. The union's improper threats of antitrust litigation are having a direct, immediate and harmful effect upon the ability of the parties to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The NHL therefore seeks a declaration that the NHL's ongoing lockout, which is lawful as a matter of federal labor law, does not violate the antitrust laws, and as such, can neither be enjoined nor result in any legally cognizable or compensable damages to defendants."
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, a relatively new judge who joined Manhattan's federal bench in July 2011, according to The Associate Press. He was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and prosecuted major crimes for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.
The owners' lockout threatens to cancel the entire NHL season, for the second time in 9 years.
The owners claim "that the Norris-LaGuardia Act deprives the federal courts of jurisdiction to enjoin or restrain the ongoing lockout without regard to any purported disclaimer by the NHLPA;" that the lockout is legal under the Clayton Antitrust Act, "and thus does not result in any legally cognizable or compensable damages to NHL players;" and five other claims, all similar to the second one.
They are represented by Shepard Goldfein with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.