Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CFLPA in need of complete overhaul

Union got slaughtered in negotiations with league

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It's going to take a structural overhaul and fresh leadership to straighten out the inept mess that's become our pro football league's players union.

In many aspects the recent labour dispute between the CFL and its players union was a waste of time and energy. However, it did shine a light on how ill prepared the CFLPA is to represent its constituents.

Disorganized and delusional best describe the union's work, and the players of the CFL both deserve and need better. The opening contract offers made by the CFLPA were reckless in that they were unattainable and inflammatory.

Constituents were sold a bill of goods and delivery was impossible. Now, despite ratifying a new deal, players are angry and frustrated. They should be. The CFLPA executive, with four Canadian offensive linemen on the negotiating committee, is not representative of the league's diversity. It's exclusive. More players and more backgrounds need to be involved in the planning and execution of the CFLPA's direction going forward.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will tell you having an ineffective players' association with leadership issues is bad for labour peace and eventually has a negative effect on business.

Bettman contended during the last NHL lockout negotiations were stalled because the NHLPA wasn't a partner in talks until executive director Don Fehr officially took office and was able to wrap his head around the issues.

Maybe Bettman got more of an adversary than he wanted in Fehr, but once the former baseball union boss got involved, there was no question the players were well represented.

Fehr's presence guarantees the players will be prepared and well versed in the issues, both economic and non. He's a union leader with experience and acumen. Made all too apparent in these recent negations is the CFLPA has no one in their employ with a similar skill set.

The CFL got its way on so many fronts. Many of the league's economic positions were justified and the players' association should have better known the landscape going in. Rather than shoot for some impossible goal with next to no leverage, the union would have been better served to work with the league, which is what ousted-president Mike Morreale wanted. Morreale was pushed out for his good sense, and the CFLPA took it on the chin with an ill-based strategy based on transparent bluffs the league comfortably called.

On the eve of negotiations, the CFLPA replaced one former player in Morreale with another in Scott Flory which mattered little as the CFLPA has long taken its cues from legal counsel and former player Ed Molstad.

The one constant within the CFLPA over the last 40 years of unsatisfactory CBA results has been Molstad. This must end. Molstad should be thanked for his work and given a plaque -- but never another mandate.

The CFLPA needs to put on its big boy pants.

Certainly the CFLPA can't afford a man of Fehr's abilities, but they can get a young, less expensive version. They need full-time representation from a professional with a background in finance and labour law.

Flory is a bright guy with good intentions, but not even close to what can be called a union leader as the to-and-fro of these talks bore out. Molstad's record, which has seen the players huff and puff but never get anywhere, speaks for itself. He needs to be replaced.

The CFLPA, to even be mentioned in the same sentence as other players' unions in North America, is an insult to successful groundbreaking groups in MLB, the NHL, NFL and NBA. Change in strategy and those carrying it out must be affected before similar success can even be considered let alone attained.

Football players need a union, a strong one that can protect players. Players need to be involved on a year-round basis, demanding information and education from the league.

Showing up every year with guns drawn but no bullets only results in a slaughter. These recently inflicted wounds must be heeded. The CFLPA shouldn't and can't engage in a gunfight with the CFL. It needs to develop a relationship and work together to make the league stronger, resulting in a better deal for players. It needs to build and repair bridges, not threaten to blow them up.

Or the CFLPA could keep doing what they've done forever -- at the expense of everyone involved but mostly the guys actually paying the dues.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2014 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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