Sport

The N.H.L. Is Back but Full Paychecks Are Not, Some Employees Say

After months spent working from home, scores of behind-the-scenes employees of the National Hockey League will assemble at two sites in Canada this week to prepare for the resumption of the season, which was halted March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

But many of those league employees say they have been told they will do so while being paid only 75 percent of their regular salaries, despite the health risks and hardships they will face by leaving home and sequestering in a restricted site in Edmonton or Toronto — the league’s two hub cities — for two months or longer.

In April, shortly after the season was suspended, the N.H.L. cut salaries of league personnel by 25 percent for all employees making more than $75,000 annually. Employees were told at the time that, in order to avoid layoffs and with no hockey being played and no revenue coming in, employees would have endure the reduction in salaries.

But with the postseason set to begin on Aug. 1, three N.H.L. employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from the league, said they have been told that their full pay will not be reinstated this year.

The league declined to comment, saying it does not comment on matters relating to employee compensation.

“It’s inhumane that there are 100-plus employees risking their health and livelihoods to bring hockey to the masses and they are not being compensated or promised anything,” one of the employees said.

On March 23, Debbie Jordan, the N.H.L.’s senior vice president for administration and human resources, wrote an email to league employees in the Montreal, New York and Toronto offices informing them of the pay cuts. The email, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, said there was “tremendous uncertainty surrounding the economics of our business going forward, both at the League Office and our clubs.”

The memo said the cuts would take effect with the April 15 payroll and promised that no one making less than $75,000 would be affected. There was no mention of how long the cuts would remain in effect.

“In order for us to be in the strongest possible position to weather this time, be responsive to the needs of our clubs, and be ready to come back strong at the right time,” the email said, “we have had to focus on making adjustments to our league office expenditures.”

The employees had held out hope that the league would restore full pay now that the league is set to resume play and begin collecting revenues from television broadcast deals and other sources. The N.B.A. and Major League Baseball, whose seasons were also disrupted by the pandemic, have continued to pay their league employees their full salaries, according to representatives for both leagues. In April, the N.F.L. reduced pay for managers who make over $100,000 and in May furloughed employees who could work from home, saying it anticipated reinstating those workers, “within a few months.”

Rob Manfred, the M.L.B. commissioner, and his senior staff agreed to take a 35 percent pay cut during the pandemic break, and Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, and 100 of that league’s top executives agreed to cuts of 20 percent. The N.B.A. cut some jobs in June, but said those was related to long-term strategy and not as a result of the pandemic. Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner said in April that he cut his own salary completely.

The affected N.H.L. employees who will travel to either of the two hub cities on July 23 represent a wide range of jobs that help the league function, including security, media relations, game operations, media production, social media and broadcast technicians, image technicians. There is also at least one ticket coordinator, though for now fans are not allowed to attend any of the games.

According to one N.H.L. employee, the number of staff members deployed for the restart of the league is similar to that which the league sends to a typical Winter Classic outdoor game every January, except that this time their assignment will last at least two months, rather than one game.

In anticipation of the resumption of games, the league sent employees testing kits for the coronavirus, which they must self-administer on a video call with a physician, and then send to a laboratory. Those who have to travel to either hub city are expected to quarantine for two days in their hotels upon arriving, and their travel will be restricted to trips between the hotel and the game and practice sites until the last game is played, either in late September or early October. Those staffers staying in secure zone hotels who need to leave for any reason will have to test negative for four consecutive days before they are allowed to leave quarantine.

The N.H.L. will host 12 exhibition games, starting July 28, then begin its expanded postseason with a round-robin tournament to seed the four clubs with the best records in each conference. The remaining 16 teams face off in a best-of-five qualifying round.

With as many as six games a day, three in each hub, for the first eight days, the workload will be substantial for staff members making three-quarters of their salaries, some of whom are not eligible for overtime pay. Other employees will continue to work from home during the restart.

One N.H.L. employee said staff members’ first reduced checks arrived in April and they were told on a Zoom call that their sacrifices and work efforts would not go unnoticed.

“I wrote down this one quote,” the employee said. “We were told, ‘Your efforts will be remembered come bonus time, if there are bonuses.’”

Traditionally the league often awards bonuses and cost-of-living increases each year, but one of the employees said they were not given any commitments for this season.

The employee added that, at the time the cuts were announced, staff members assumed their full pay would be restored once the league resumed play. But when they asked colleagues and supervisors, they were told the reduced pay structure would remain in place.

“It’s not too late for them to change their minds,” the employee said. “People are going to be working really hard, long hours to bring these games to the fans.”


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