Fehr selected to lead NHL players union

Don Fehr became the new executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association on Saturday after union members voted overwhelmingly to accept the executive board’s endorsement.

The 62-year-old Fehr is the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. He held that post from 1983 until 2009.

Fehr, who was serving as an unpaid NHLPA consultant, will start in his new position immediately.

The collective bargaining agreement between the union and league is set to expire in September 2012.

Fehr’s appointment was hardly a surprise considering he had gained the board’s support.

But it came after a search committee recommended Fehr to the executive board, which then put it to a full vote of the union membership.

”This process took a while, and it took a while because from the players’ standpoint they wanted to be sure,” Fehr said during a conference call. ”I wanted them to be sure they had made a decision they were comfortable with, that all the players had an opportunity to have their say and that this judgment represented a consensus view of the entire membership.

”It has, and that’s both quite an honor to me and is also quite humbling.”

Fehr, who said he grew up watching some hockey and considers himself a fan, plans to immediately meet with players while becoming acclimated with the details of the collective bargaining agreement, revenue sharing and the economics of the game.

”Those are the three main pieces you have to have in order to do the kind of analysis that it will take to prepare for collective bargaining,” he said. ”What goes right along with this is educating the membership at the same time as I educate myself as to what those issues are, what’s important about them, how various things affect the players and then additionally what changes in the agreement – either that we might propose or that the commissioner’s office might propose – could affect them.

”Then to work with the players to identify individuals who are willing to and whom the rest of the players would like to serve on their negotiating committees moving forward. That’s an awful lot of work.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league was happy that the union found a new boss.

”We are pleased that the leadership position at the players’ association has been filled, and we look forward to working with Don in his new role,” Bettman said in a statement.

Michael Weiner, the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said Fehr’s experience in baseball will serve him well in his new post.

”We congratulate Don and the NHLPA, and we wish them well in all future collective bargaining matters,” Weiner said in a release. ”Don’s experience with the MLBPA will surely benefit hockey players going forward.

”The MLBPA, as it has done in the past, stands ready to assist the NHLPA whenever called upon.”

Fehr takes over an organization that’s been plagued by turmoil and uncertainty in recent years. The union has had four leaders since the end of the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

During his time in charge of the baseball union, Fehr developed a reputation of being a fierce negotiator and led the baseball players through the 1994-95 strike and subsequent cancellation of the World Series.

Fehr said he is unsure when negotiations with the league would begin, but guessed that it would be ”probably sometime a year from this spring, maybe a little sooner than that but that’s only a target date.

”Down the road a few months I expect to have a much better idea of when it would make sense.”

Fehr said it’s very unfair for fans to automatically assume another lockout is imminent because of his appointment.

”A lot of people have knee-jerk reactions to things, but a knee-jerk reaction that would say my background … suggests I am a hawk such that it necessarily means there will be problems in the negotiations I don’t think reflects a very complete or sophisticated understanding of what we went through,” he said. ”You have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the owners and we will do that and they have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the players and I trust and hope they will do that.

”We treat a work stoppage, a strike, as a last resort and it’s something you consider only when you believe that all alternatives have failed. If you would ask me if I anticipate a stoppage, I would say no and I certainly hope we won’t have one but I’m not going to predict what happens in negotiations.”

The NHLPA also announced its membership voted overwhelmingly to accept amendments that were put forward by the constitution committee and endorsed by the executive board. The union said in a statement the amendments add clarity to, and simplify, the new constitution as well as the association’s decision-making process.

”Would I have taken the position without the amendments? The answer is I don’t know for sure but it would’ve been a vastly more difficult choice,” Fehr said. ”What this does is put the director almost precisely in the position of a prime minister and that is to say the director has significant authority and responsibility but so long as, and only so long as, that individual can maintain significant majority support among the executive and board and players.”