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The myth of 'Lost Livelihoods' through the NHL lockout

People complain that livelihoods are being lost to the NHL lockout. But are they really? Who exactly is getting the shaft as the lockout drags on?


One of the main arguments people make against the lack of settlement in the ongoing NHL lockout is that so many people are losing their livelihoods because millionaires and billionaires cannot settle their differences. It's a particular argument we've heard here in Manitoba's capital city, since the Winnipeg Jets' haven't packed the MTS Centre with raucous fans as they did last year.

I am inclined to disagree with this notion. Here’s why:

There are three main groups that are affected by this lockout; team staff, arena staff, and surrounding hospitality workers. Let’s review each, step-by-step, shall we?

Arena workers: Some quick math here -- 45 home games (and I'm a pessimist who believes a season will be salvaged) multiplied by a generous 6 hour shift multiplied by a healthy $12 per hour wage. The grand total -- the arena workers livelihood -- is a rather paltry $3,240.00. Not quite David Thompson territory, is it? And should there actually be hockey this year, that number goes down. Granted, that money would be nice sitting in the workers bank accounts, but the job is casual / part-time; hardly the breadwinner it's being portrayed. As well, it isn't like the arenas are just going to sit empty waiting for hockey -- there are other events to work. Not to mention that part-time, minimum wage jobs are not exactly tough to sniff out. There just aren't many that let you catch a bit of a live NHL game while you work.

Surrounding hospitality workers: Much like their cohorts in the arena, most of the businesses that are seeing a slowdown employ people for minimum wage. Servers, bartenders, bussers. I have no doubt there is a slowdown for them, and won’t even try to say there isn't. What isn't happening, though, is people sitting on their money. A conversation with a pub owner in the Exchange district (and not terribly far from the MTS Centre, at that) revealed he has posted his best November ever. And best December ever. Of course, he has spent years building his business and doesn't rely on the Jets and the NHL to bring people in. I suspect that other establishments in the city are in similar situations -- people that aren't going to games are spending their money elsewhere. Therefore, any people being laid off by business centred around the arena should be able to find other businesses that have suddenly found themselves short-staffed. That money isn't just being put in a mattress to be spent if and when the NHL resumes.

Lastly, though, are the team (and league) staff: These are the people legitimately feeling the crunch. The question, though, is just how many of them are affected? There are at least 30 NHL correspondents that are idle. Most teams have reduced staff to a four day work week, which translates to a 20% cut in pay. Many teams have laid off staff. A few, like the Buffalo Sabres, haven’t laid off anyone. Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has given his employees an extended paid vacation. Unfortunately, the teams and the league aren't being terribly forthcoming with actual numbers or positions, so your guess is as good as mine. In many cases, jobs with a team are professional positions, and are not as easy to locate, let alone be for a professional sports team.

So there you have it -- the arena staff aren't losing the farm to the lockout, the work for servers is still available, although likely not next door to the arena. The only people who are really getting squeezed are people who are actually loyal to the masterminds of the lockout -- the owners. As the lockout goes on, one has to wonder how difficult it will be for teams to recruit and retain top talent when they've shown a willingness to not only lockout the players, but also their own staff in the process.