Flames and Jets reverse decisions, will pay staff for cancelled shifts due to COVID-19

Ailish Forfar
NHL Editor
The ownership groups of the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets have changed their tunes when it comes to their event staff getting paid during the NHL's hiatus. (Getty Images)

Update: After 24 hours of pressure from fans and communication with the part-time employees impacted, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation have changed their minds and created an income bridge support program for their staff.

In a statement made on Sunday via President and CEO John Bean, the Flames ownership group stated they will financially assist their hourly workers by providing a “top-up payment” from CSEC after qualifying for Employment Insurance (EI). The additional funds can be up to 95 per cent of each worker’s average earnings, the maximum allowed by Service Canada.

According to the team, even if a worker is ineligible for EI, they will still be provided a portion of their payment from the program.

The Flames are now the 19th NHL franchise to provide some sort of financial aid to their part-time employees that lost work due to COVID-19.

Shortly after Calgary reversed their decision, the Winnipeg Jets — who, like the Flames, initially said they wouldn’t pay their part-time staff — followed suit.

True North Sports + Entertainment, the owners of the Jets, provided the following statement to their casual and part-time employees on Sunday, according to Murat Ates of The Athletic.

The hourly event staff at Bell MTS Place will be paid in full through March 31, the original date of the Jets’ final home game of the regular season, whether the games actually happen or not.

Original Story from March 14, 2020: After the NHL announced the suspension of the regular season on Thursday afternoon due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, players and clubs have stepped up to ensure that arena staff, part-time and hourly workers are compensated for cancelled shifts.

Over a dozen NHL teams have announced plans to financially support workers throughout these uncertain times, some doing so by pledging to pay out all previously scheduled shifts, others creating COVID-19 related funds, and individual players such as Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky have stepped up to donate sums of $100,000.

Two NHL clubs have not followed suit thus far: the Winnipeg Jets and most recently, the Calgary Flames, both sharing that they will not be compensating part-time staff for events and games that have been cancelled.

Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome is home to the Flames, the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks, and the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, all who have seasons on hold indefinitely. Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, who own all three teams, sent an email Friday to all hourly and event staff to inform them they will not paid for any cancelled shifts moving forward, according to the Calgary Herald.

“Unless notified by your supervisor, all scheduled shifts are cancelled. CSEC will pay for your March 12, 2020 shift if you were scheduled to work as the notice of cancellation was less than the 24 hours required by Alberta Employment Standards. Any shifts on March 13, 2020 and beyond must be pre-approved by your supervisor,” the email states.

CSEC president and CEO John Bean shared in a press conference Friday that the organization staffs 250 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees.

The Alberta Employment Standards require that employers provide 24 hours’ notice for shift cancellations, meaning that part-time employees will only be paid for Thursday’s scheduled game against the New York Islanders which was suspended earlier that same day.

“No payment will be made for shifts cancelled with greater than 24 hours’ notice.”

True North Sports and Entertainment, who own the Winnipeg Jets, first released a statement on March 12 saying they won’t layoff their full-time workers, but won’t pay part-time staff for games and events that have been cancelled.

“They work when we work,” said True North chairman Mark Chipman.

Bell MTS Place is home to the Jets, their AHL affiliate Manitoba Moose, and a Disney On Ice tour, all cancelled by COVID-19, and will affect 1,200 part-time workers.

It was announced Friday that the talent on the ice will be paid their final three cheques of the 2019-20 season, despite the league shutting down the current campaign indefinitely. This wasn’t a guaranteed situation as the leagues’ CBA grants owners the power to negotiate different salary figures for players in the event that the league suspends operations because of a “state of war or other cause beyond the control of the league or of the club.”

This “Force Majeure” clause in the NHL’s CBA is very similar to the one that may result in reduced salaries for NBA players due to COVID-19.

Related: Which NHL clubs will pay their part-time workers during shutdown

Outside of hockey, last year’s NBA MVP and Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo pledged $100,000 to Bucks’ arena workers who are affected by the league’s suspension.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love also pledged $100,000 to arena workers through his foundation.

New Orleans Pelicans rookie star Zion Williamson also committed to paying the salaries of the team’s arena staff workers for the next 30 days.

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