01/11/2012 04:11 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Labour issues could affect Toronto minor hockey

A labour dispute in Toronto threatens to interrupt the hockey season for up to 18,000 minor hockey players.

The dispute involves the city and some municipal workers, including those who look after the hockey rinks.

Ed Wahl, the president of the S.H.A. Hockey Club, fears that a work stoppage will end hockey for kids across the city. The 1,100 players in his organization use five rinks, all of which are city owned and will likely close in the event of a strike or lockout.

“I’m not a naive person, but when did children’s programming become expendable?” Wahl said.

Wahl penned an open letter Thursday to city councillors, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and union presidents Mark Ferguson (CUPE 416) and Tim Maguire (CUPE 79). He asked both sides to consider how closing rinks would affect minor hockey.

A work stoppage could cancel a tournament scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 9 that the organization was hoping would raise $15,000. That money would go to offset a subsidy given this year by not raising registration fees.

“Our league operated on the basis of cost recovery, so we charge as little as possible,” Wahl said.

Lost ice time

The S.H.A. Hockey Club isn’t alone in preparing for a stoppage. The West Mall Lightning Minor Hockey Association stands to lose about 75 per cent of its ice time, according to president Rich Ternieden.

For West Mall, that would mean shutting down the house league and cutting back on select team practices for the roughly 900 players in the organization.

“There isn’t enough private ice time in the world to accommodate anything you’d lose in the city,” Ternieden said.

A labour disruption could close 32 per cent of the rinks used by the Greater Toronto Hockey League, according to executive director Scott Oakman, who noted the hardest hit would be the house leagues, which constitute about 18,000 players in the Toronto area.

“We’re hopeful both sides can work this out in the best interest of all recreation sports, not just hockey,” Oakman said. “We understand both sides have their perspective and point of view … but we hope they keep in mind [the effect they’re having].”

Contracts expired between the city and CUPE Local 79, which serves about 23,000 inside workers, and Local 416, which represents 6,000 outside workers, at the end of 2011. Provincial conciliators have been added to negotiations this month, leading to predictions of a possible lockout in February.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who chairs the employee and labour relations committee, said the city hopes to get the issues resolved in the winter.

“I think there’s more potential for a labour disruption if we let it play out in the late spring or early summer,” he said, noting a work stoppage then would affect the city’s baseball and soccer leagues.

“It will be our intent to keep open as many city services as possible.”