The National Labor Relations Board launched two investigations into the Arizona Coyotes during the past 13 months, probing allegations that the National Hockey League team spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay, federal records say.
The financially struggling franchise reached a settlement earlier this year in one labor case filed by its payroll administrator.
The employee had alleged the violations occurred during most of 2016, when the Coyotes created an impression that employees were under surveillance, threatened staff if they engaged in union organizing, caused employees to sign overly broad and discriminatory severance agreements and fired the employee after she complained the Coyotes failed to properly pay staff, according to NLRB records.
The charges were withdrawn in February, after the employee and the Coyotes reached an undisclosed settlement. The team admitted no wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes face a Jan. 9 hearing before an NLRB administrative-law judge on another investigation.
In that case, a former ticket salesman alleges the Coyotes interfered with employees’ rights to unionize. James Whitener claims the Coyotes fired him for engaging in protected labor activities, and the team asked employees to sign separation agreements that were “overly broad and unlawful.”
The Coyotes have denied all of the allegations.
“We have worked hard to create an excellent workplace culture for more than 100 employees,” said Ahron Cohen, the team’s general counsel and chief operating officer. “We are proud of that culture, which is based on respect and fair treatment for all employees. Any allegations to the contrary are not true.”
The Arizona Republic received copies of the NLRB records on Wednesday, in response to federal Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Coyotes also agreed to an undisclosed financial settlement in September with Whitener, a former premium seat manager who sued the team in U.S. District Court.
Whitener alleged in the lawsuit that the Coyotes did not pay him overtime for working more than 40 hours a week, as required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Coyotes denied those allegations. Whitener declined to comment.
The federal lawsuit indicates that Whitener filed the NLRB complaint this year, which triggered the second federal investigation. The lawsuit settlement did not affect the NLRB complaint.
The NLRB records blacked out the names of both former employees who filed the charges.
However, Cohen identified the other employee as Viki Redgrave, the team’s former payroll administrator. Attempts to reach Redgrave were unsuccessful.
Some companies settle NLRB cases and make financial payments to the accusers because it’s less costly than going to a full hearing.
The NLRB does not track the number of cases involving professional sports teams. But The Republic’s review of the NLRB website found no charges against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Suns or Arizona Cardinals, the Valley’s other major pro-sports franchises.
The ongoing NLRB case comes as the Coyotes nearly set an NHL record for futility by starting this season 0-10-1. With the worst record in the NHL, at 2-15-3, the organization has struggled to attract fans, with attendance at Gila River Arena in Glendale near the bottom of the 31-team league.
The Coyotes have the league’s smallest payroll, at about $55 million, according to the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
Team owner Andrew Barroway and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this year threatened to leave Arizona if the team wasn’t given a new, publicly funded arena.
The Coyotes for several years have been the subject of relocation threats because of turnover in ownership, and team officials have claimed the organization has never turned a profit and lost more than $20 million annually the last several seasons.
The team is on a year-to-year lease in Glendale, and the franchise has not disclosed where it will play next season after the current lease ends.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-8478 or on Twitter @charrisazrep.com.
Coyotes make NHL history — in a bad way — in loss
Glendale losing less on Gila River Arena, but what if Coyotes leave?
Moore: Arizona Coyotes start new era with plenty of questions
Glendale: Coyotes, not city, to blame for financial mess
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2ijrZuH