A recent article in the Seattle Times brought to light the contreversial business practices of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
According to the article, four of the WHL teams (Tri-Cities Americans, Spokane Chiefs, Everett Silvertips, and the Seattle Thunderbirds) here in Washington State are being investigated for misconduct in violation of labor laws.
The main point of consternation that the WHL is trying to determine if these players are amateur (as they have always been treated) or if they are professional. The proceedings at the Washington State government level, will determine if the players on these teams (who range in age of 16-20) should be considered amateur.
Currently, WHL players are treated as non-employee club participants. Players are entitled to free room and board, a stipend, and one year reimbursement for college (if not drafted by the NHL). The WHL does not act as a minor league farm system, as they are in baseball or basketball. The WHL is a junior league, where young men (and women) are given the opportunity to compete to build a resume to get to the NHL or college.
The tricky part is defining if the teams are “for profit” or “not-for-profit.” If the teams are a profit venture, then these players should be listed as employees and earn state minimum wage. The decision by the Washington State Labor and Industry department could have a lasting impact.
Owners complain that the changes will require owners to pay for their players making their business model unsustainable. Owners will have to close shop in the state, thus effecting the economies of the local municipalities. They will pursue an exception to keep them in business.
The players complaint is that if the owners make money off ticket sales, jersey sales, concessions, etc… off of their hard work and effort, perhaps the should profit share more with the de facto employees earning them the money. The players will continue to press for emancipation from the perceived indentured servitude.
In progressive weeks, Seattle Side Up will keep an eye on this story.