2012 NHL Lockout: Understanding labor terms

What is known by the majority of hockey fans is that there is no NHL season right now, and no looming NHL training camp, with thanks to the National Hockey League locking out the players.

But what does that imply the word lockout?

That question may sound condescending to some who do understand the term and what's going on, but there are many fans who throw out certain terms that don't seem to grasp what they are, what they imply, and what they stand for.

So, as a public service, here are the definitions to four unique terms that are relevant to the 2012 NHL work stoppage: collective bargaining agreement, lockout, strike and boycott.

Collective bargaining agreement (CBA), from Wikipedia:

...A process of between employees and a group of employers aimed at reaching agreements that inform the workers of [editor note: incomplete sententce. It should read something like mutually agreed upon working conditions]. The interests of the employees are commonly presented by representatives of a trade union to which the employees belong. The collective agreements reached by these negotiations usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms, and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs.

What the CBA does in the NHL is, as the above quote suggests, sets ground rules for the league on such things as free agency (restricted and unrestricted free agency rules, contract minimums and maximums), playing conditions (equipment rules, player safety, players can't play 3 days straight, much more), establishing the process to lodge appeals to suspensions, defining the salary cap, etc. It's all the sticky stuff fans don't want to think about, but those things affect the game broadly.

And in this case, the sticking point is over money and how much goes to teams and how much goes to players.

Lockout, from Wikipedia:

...a temporary work stoppage or denial of employment during a labor dispute initiated by the management of a company.[

With the expiration of the 2005 CBA (the last hashed-out terms the NHL and NHLPA had operated under); the league decided it would not operate further under the terms of the previous agreement. Without a new agreement and the expiration of the old agreement, it effectively shuts the competition level of league business down (you know, teams and games). Players are now locked out, they are on their own. That means they no longer have access to their respective franchises. They aren't free agents, but it's as if they were. They will not have access to their franchises training staffs, franchise purchased equipment, they will receive no paychecks (actually, players who have been previously bought out under the old CBA still get paid the money they are due, but that's another story).

So, with that in mind, let's go to the phrase that's often wrongly tossed around to describe the situation...

Strike, from Wikipedia:

...a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances.

In essence, if the players suddenly refused to play - that would be a strike. The idea that the 2012 NHL work stoppage is a strike has been thrown around casually and totally incorrectly by confused fans and some media persons.

It's worth noting that NHLPA Executive President Donald M. Fehr has been tied to strike actions by professional sports players in the past. He initiated a strike by Major League Baseball players (when he was chief of the MLB Players Association) in 1994 which effectively ended the 1994 MLB season, led to the cancelation of the 1994 World Series, and delayed the start of the 1995 MLB season.

Though Fehr claimed several times this summer that players would willingly work (play) under the terms of the expiring labor agreement (while a new CBA was being negotiated),a fear existed that, players would strike (or walk out), disrupting the season. The fact Fehr had orchestrated a players strike in the past was justification to some for the owners pre-empt any labor confrontation by locking out the players.

Boycott, from Wikipedia:

...an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for political reasons. It can be a form of consumer activism.

This is the phrase least thrown around with regards to any professional sports work stoppage, and yet, it's what empowers fans the most. While online petitions are circulated and other forms of protest are taking place, consumer activism is what potentially affects the National Hockey League the most.

Of course, fans don't want to stop being fans. They don't want to stop buying team merchandise, or going to games. At the same time, abstaining from buying goods or services from certain league or team advertisers sends a message (specifically when it's done in mass). That message being "I do not agree with a group you are associated with and will not give you money while you continue this relationship."

It's often that people put down boycotts because it would possibly further disrupt things, cost people jobs, etc. Yet boycotts are the only way fans are empowered. After all, this work stoppage is all about money and profit. A lack of advertising dollars would mean less profit for the league.

There are other terms that might be confusing people out there, and I encourage you to post a comment and ask. For the sake of making my point here, the current situation is not a strike, and fans cannot participate in a lockout in order to voice disapproval of the situation. A "fan lockout" is cutesy way of saying "protest" or "boycott" that doesn't seem to grasp the definition of lockout to begin with... And, yes, fans have used the phrasing before and are doing it currently.