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Former CHL player chastises lawsuit demands for minimum wage


Don't count on Zach Franko joining the class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League.

On Friday, the 23-year-old blasted the lawsuit that claims the umbrella league - which oversees the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL - owes millions of dollars in outstanding wages, including overtime, holiday, and vacation pay, to more than 300 current and former players who've joined together since the suit was filed in 2014.

"As a proud WHL and CHL alumni, I find it embarrassing that players are asking for more money," Franko wrote. "Tell me what responsibilities do we as 16-20 year-old boys have that we need money for? Our teams cover our gear, living expenses, food, put roofs over our heads, and take us in like one of their own children."

Franko played three seasons with the Kelowna Rockets from 2010-13, splitting the following campaign between Kelowna and the Kootenay Ice. He finished second in Rockets scoring in 2012-13, recording 24 goals and 48 assists in 69 games.

"(The teams) monitor our billet families and make sure we are being taken care of like no other teenager," Franko added. "I am so thankful that my parents can retire years earlier (because) the WHL is paying for my school and I will forever thank them for that."

The WHL awards more than 400 post-secondary scholarships to current and former players each year.

The suit, which includes players who were part of Canadian teams from 2010-16 and U.S.-based clubs from 2008-16, centers on whether players are considered amateur athletes - as the league insists - or business employees, as the players argue.

In October, WHL commissioner Rob Robison told Jon Hernandez of CBC News: "These franchises are not profitable. The industry is not profitable. I think it's a distorted message to send."

On Tuesday, Alberta justice Robert Hall ruled CHL clubs must release their financial records in an attempt to determine if a minimum-wage pay structure is sustainable.

Charney Lawyers, which filed the suit, claims, "Major junior hockey is big business, generating revenues for the teams, while the devoted young hockey players who work their hearts out do not get paid. We want to change that."

But that's not the position on the other side of the table.

League counsel Norman Machida noted that the average CHL club loses $91,000 per year, adding that minimum-wage salaries would cost each team $300,000.

The next step in the case will be held in Toronto from March 21-23, with a scheduled motion for certification of the suit.

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