NHLPA and CAW Solidarity? Examining Donald Fehr’s Politics

By Alvin Ma

Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever!
For the union makes us strong.

Prominently given its own page on the Canadian Auto Workers website, the lyrics to this anthem for worker cooperation might not seem out of place. What does seem out of place is a news article on its website, in the aftermath of a speech to the CAW Council by Donald Fehr, which seemingly includes millionaire hockey players as workers in a common class struggle against the proverbial gold-hoarding owners. The full video of Fehr’s speech can be seen here:

Here’s a summarized message:

When somebody says to me what hockey players have in common with other people that are in unions, other people that are attempting to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, other people that are attempting to improve or maintain the terms and conditions of employment that so many people over so many generations have struggled for; it is that it is basically the same situation the industry is different. Nobody’s going to pretend that the amount of dollars which flow through it are the same per employee as in others but the struggle is more or less the same.

I find it intriguing that Donald Fehr and the NHLPA representatives in attendance were given “several standing ovations.” Yes, it’s admirable from the perspective of CAW members that Fehr took time off from his lockout negotiating work in order to deliver a speech of moral support, but I’m not sure if these delegates would applaud so vivaciously had they all known that Fehr has contributed $10,000 to conservative Republican causes in the past 20 years. I understand that Fehr has contributed $8,756 to progressive Democratic causes as well,  but that is to be expected. You might be wondering instead: Why did Fehr support the National Republican Congressional Committee, John McCain, George W. Bush, Jim Bunning, and repeatedly Orrin Hatch?

Senator Bunning was a former baseball player, so that’s easily explainable. Looking at the timeline of donations could also provide a clue. Fehr likely donated to the Republican political action committee in early 1995 to spur the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives into favourable action against the Major League Baseball owners,whom MLB players were then on strike against. Senator Hatch co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that aimed to amend the labour laws of antitrust regarding baseball. In 2000, Fehr donated $1000 apiece to presidential candidates McCain and Bush (though it should be noted that Fehr did the same for Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley), likely as a gentle lobbying reminder.

The reasons above for Republican Party contributions may seem practical in order to maximize the bottom line lobbying interests for MLB players. That’s what Fehr’s paid to do in his capacity as the MLBPA executive director then and the NHLPA executive director now. However, it seems ironic to say the least when Fehr cumulatively donates $4500 to a candidate who proudly served under the Reagan Revolution but says the following in his CAW speech:

That summer [of 1981] I also learned what the potential effect is that professional athletes can have on other people in other unions trying to struggle their way through their own problems. And that was because while we were on strike, the air traffic controllers strike broke out in the States and as most of you know that strike was broken by actions of the president.

Aside from baseball, both Hatch and Bunning have been given a 0% rating by the AFL-CIO union, meaning that they have consistently voted against union rights, specifically on employer interference in union-organizing (Employee Free Choice Act). If Fehr truly felt connected to his union roots, he would have not donated to Hatch in 2000 knowing full well that Hatch voted to oppose minimum wage increases and welfare the previous term. It’s not just Fehr either. Former hockey union leader Alan Eagleson was also a noted Conservative.

On the other hand, Jeremy Jacobs, the hawkish Boston Bruins owner who has been the poster boy for bourgeoisie greed, is not immune from Democratic Party political contributions. The same could be said for NBA commissioner David Stern (99% Democrat) and MLB commissioner Bud Selig (98% Democrat). For the record, Gary Bettman has only made three contributions: one to (Democrat-turned-Republican) former Minnesota hockey team advocate Norm Coleman and two to New Jersey Democratic affiliations. Therefore, the working class might be better off politically uniting around Bettman. Judging from his popularity level, however, I somehow doubt that will ever happen.


One thought on “NHLPA and CAW Solidarity? Examining Donald Fehr’s Politics

  1. Pingback: Mark Popovic, KHL player and former NHLer, on hockey culture and labour vs. passion in a pro career | Hockey in Society

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