The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be playing hockey but they’re doing the right thing by their employees. The same isn’t true for all the Canadian teams.
When the NHL announced that the season would be on indefinite hiatus the Toronto Maple Leafs were quick to respond in a positive way.
Their parent company Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) released statements to make clear where they stood.
MLSE should be applauded for their quick response and dedication to the people who help ensure that there is professional sports being played in Toronto. The same cannot be said for all the Canadian teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs Do Good
At 1:35 PM on March 12, the NHL released a statement announcing that the season has been suspended due to the worldwide pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Less than four hours later, MLSE had issued a statement of their own.
It explained that the organization supported the league’s decision. It also included language about taking care of the staff.
"“Our employees have shown great professionalism, as always, during this unpredictable time, and we are currently finalizing programs to assist our part-time and event staff, made up of close to 4,000 dedicated event personnel.”"
There weren’t any specific details about how or when MLSE employees would be paid. That is less important than the commitment the company made to ensure that the staff is compensated. Three days later the Maple Leafs clarified their actions to address the situation.
The official Twitter account from the team issued a statement that read, “management, players and coaches across all teams are coming together to contribute to a fund to help the workers who support them every day and night. Team Toronto”
This means that the highly compensated members of MLSE will be working together to ensure that the 4000 employees need not worry about money.
The Hockey Teams in Alberta were heavily criticized by fans for not doing something similar to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The problem was that they didn’t act as quickly, which had fans sharing the net worth of ownership on social media to help shame the organization.
Perhaps the teams were always planning to do the right thing and pay their staff during the stoppage but the optics aren’t great. It appeared as though it took both Alberta teams being annihilated by their fans to issue statements about compensation.
The Edmonton Oilers went first. On March 14, they tweeted that Tom Anselmi, Oilers Entertainment Group President of Business Operations & Chief Operating Officer was planning “an assistance program for part-time staff”.
The Calgary Flames followed one day later. They explained that they would be “adopting an income bridge support program.” In its description, the team acknowledged that their intent wasn’t initially to pay the staff.
The Calgary Herald had already reported that the team would not be paying their employees for any canceled shifts. Thankfully, the Flames decided to adopt a far kinder policy in dealing with the league shut down.
In an open letter to Calgary Sports and Entertainment part-time employees, John Bean, the President, and CEO of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation let them know he initially stumbled. The letter said, “We may not get everything right, out of the gate, but we can assure you that we will continue to work hard to do what is right for all of our Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation family.”
The letter detailed the plan for staff payment:
"“This program will provide part time employees who are affected by this temporary halt in our operations and are applying for and are eligible to receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits to receive a top up payment from CSEC, which will provide an overall benefit of up to 95% of your regular average insurable earnings (which is the maximum allowable by Service Canada), to the conclusion of the Flames regular season. If you are not eligible to receive EI benefits due to not working sufficient hours you will receive the equivalent CSEC top up portion.”"
In order to put money in the hands of its part-time crew, the Flames have asked their employees to apply for Employment Insurance. This would have the government pick up the majority of the bill and the Flames would chip in the rest in the form of top-up.
The Montreal Canadiens posted their plans to assist their gameday staff on March 15. It is very similar to what the Flames put forward with one addition. Les Habitants have also directed staff to EI but will cover those who aren’t eligible to receive it by paying them 75% of their salary.
"“For employees who aren’t eligible to receive employment insurance, the organization will pay 75% of the employee’s salary they would have received for the remaining regular-season games of the Montreal Canadiens (4 games) or the Laval Rocket (8 games).”"
Also, just like the Leafs, Montreal players are helping offset the costs to compensate the 1,200 game-day employees who will be missing shifts. It’s an impressive action that will mean a lot to the Montreal residents.
The Senators were the last Canadian team to issue a statement. On Monday, March 16, they finally did. It explained that they have plans to develop a financial relief program. The details were vague.
"“The Ottawa Senators have just completed plans and have committed to developing a program based on the individual needs of our staff. These programs will help any part-time employee who requires support to avoid financial hardship during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We will be working with every individual and evaluating every individual need to minimize the impact on those employees.”"
It might be up for interpretation whether all employees will be aided with financial support or if the team is choosing who to help on a case by case basis. Since the news is still so new, there hasn’t been much more information shared about what this means for Capital Sports and Entertainment staff.
For the Vancouver Canucks, COVID-19 has done more than just temporarily shut its doors. They announced that one of their employees has tested positive with the disease. They also issued statements about supporting both their staff and the community.
Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the Canucks posted on March 14 that the team would support employees who need it. It’s a similar message to the one that the Senators offered.
The Canucks did also make an announcement to support the residents of the city. Aquilini’s family committed to donating over a ton of perishable food to those in need. The food will be sent to the community through the Salvation Army and the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.
The Winnipeg Jets were just as maligned for their inaction as the teams in Alberta. This is because the ownership group of the Jets, True North Sports + Entertainment (TNSE), twice said they would not be paying part-time staff.
The Jets have 1,050 casual and part-time staff whom TNSE initially said didn’t rely on Jets games as their primary source of compensation. Their inaction was heavily criticized by fans. Social media flooded the team’s mentions with anger over the treatment of their employees.
On March 14, the Jets succumb to public pressure and put together a plan to pay some of their employees. TNSE sent an email to casual and part-time staff to let them know their policy about who will be getting paid.
The email doubled down on the idea that employees who have another primary source of income don’t need to be compensated by their part-time employer.
It said that for 97% of the 1,050 part-time and casual staff, they will only see payment when they work a shift. The remainder of that group, approximately 315 people, might be paid. The email explained that “other arrangements have and are being explored”. Hopefully, the arrangements being explored lead those dependent on their TNSE paychecks to be paid in full.
The action and inaction from Canadian NHL teams have helped MLSE’s image. Toronto Maple Leafs players who are busy creating art should be proud of their employer for being a leader and conversely, the organization should cherish their players who have committed to helping the part-time staff.
If ever questioning your fandom of the Maple Leafs recall this moment in time and how they dealt with opening their wallets when others wouldn’t.