Locked-out National Hockey League players voted to give their union the power to file a disclaimer of interest, putting them one step closer to filing class-action anti-trust lawsuits against the league.
The vote passed overwhelmingly, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Friday, and gives the executive board of the NHL Players' Association the option of dissolving the union. The board has until Jan. 2 to make a decision.
The players' union declined comment.
Dissolving the union would free players, who are locked in a bitter labor dispute with NHL owners over how to share $3.3 billion in revenue, to file anti-trust lawsuits against the NHL in the courts and have the lockout deemed illegal.
In a pre-emptive strike, the NHL filed a class-action complaint and unfair labor practice charge against the players' union last week.
The moves come with negotiations between the two sides at a standstill and time running out before the league is forced to cancel the entire season.
"I'm not an expert on collective bargaining but there is not going to be a deal done until we're sitting across the table from each other," Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul said this week.
The players have been locked out since mid-September as negotiations between the two sides have failed to produce a new collective bargaining agreement.
More than 600 regular-season games, 50 percent of a normal season, have been canceled, leading to speculation that the entire season could be called off if an agreement is not reached by mid-January.
Key sticking points revolve around the length of a new contract, rules governing term limits on contracts and the transition rules to help teams get under the salary cap.
The lockout is the NHL's fourth work stoppage in 20 years and first since a lockout forced cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.