So you're a big-time hockey team owner and you decide that you simply aren't making enough money. You look across the street to where your NFL friends run their business, and enviously think about their restructuring their collective bargaining agreement with hard salary caps, reduced revenue percentages for the players, and a relatively streamlined discipline system. You also note that virtually every NFL team is in the black, while a number of your hockey team owning colleagues are either just barely breaking even or actually losing money.
You know the collective bargaining agreement is about to expire with your hockey union, and, taking a page out of the NFL and NBA owners manual, you decide to hardball the players union by threatening to lock out the players and force them to live on their savings for a while.
So far so good right? But there's a small fly in your union busting ointment-namely, that unlike the NFL and NBA, the NHL has a number of teams in Canada. Specifically, the NHL has teams in Québec, Ontario and Alberta, provinces that have their own labour laws that limit unilateral actions by ownership in these cases. In the United States, state laws cannot override or affect federal labor law; so local ordinances like this are not an issue. But not only do our Canadian neighbours spell "labour law" differently, their provincial legal codes are enforceable, even in situations where there is a nationwide, multi-province employer in question.
It looks like several of the clubs will not be able to lock out their players without either approval by provincial labour boards, or by taking steps to secure what's called a "lockout vote", as well as mediation, in Alberta (the statute is here, the lockout provisions are in Division 13). For teams in those provinces, at least, the players will be allowed to show up, and collect compensation. Whether the rest of the owners will collectively fund that arrangement remains to be seen. But it raises an interesting question for multinational sports leagues trying to adopt a consistent position with respect to their clubs and their employees. Stay tuned.