OLYMPIA – Young hockey players for the Spokane Chiefs and other WHL teams in Washington will be exempted from certain labor laws which would have restricted their practice and playing time and made them subject to the minimum wage.
Without the law signed Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee, the league's Washington teams might not have been able to operate, although the league is facing similar questions about labor practices in other states and provinces, WHL Commissioner Ron Robinson said.
The bill effects all players between 16 and 20 years of age who play for a team in a regional, national or international league, but it’s designed specifically to answer a complaint with the Labor Department about young WHL players in Spokane, Seattle, Everett and the Tri-Cities. The complaint contends the players are professional athletes who should be subject to all wage and hour laws.
The investigation by the Labor Department “did catch us by surprise,” Tim Speltz, general manager of the Chiefs, said after the signing. “We operated the way we've always operated.”
The changes are particularly important for 16- and 17-year-olds who are developing their talents in hopes of moving up to the National Hockey League. Under the strict hour-limitations of standard child labor laws, they might not have been eligible to play late games or do the additional physical training they want, Speltz said.
“These are guys that want to do extra. They know what they're doing,” he said. “Athletes want to compete.”
Inslee said the revisions of labor law was an issue that he considered, but ultimately agreed with. “The situation is sufficiently unique to warrant this particular circumscribed treatment,” he said.
Robinson said the league has faced similar questions from labor departments in the other states and Canadian provinces where it has teams, and those legislatures or parliaments are considering similar changes to labor laws. Saskatchewan already passed a law similar to the bill signed Monday, and Oregon was waiting to review the Washington legislation, he said.