Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Union talks the talk... then quickly taps out

CFLPA executive has some explaining to do

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The most important outcome of a successful negotiation between the CFL and CFLPA would be the fact the season would proceed without interruption, and the fans of Canadian football would not be penalized for their steadily increasing interest in the game.

That being said, I am surprised the final deal was reportedly worked out with a mediator going back and forth -- without the two sides stepping into a room again -- as it appears the CFL physically took the CFLPA behind their woodshed and made this deal happen with a switch of bamboo.

To that point, with a ratification vote looming, selling this deal to their membership, and walking away from the strong words, stances, and posturing put forth during negotiations will require a degree of spin-doctoring from the CFLPA executive, so let's get a head start and wade through it for them.

'... It appears the CFL physically took the CFLPA behind their woodshed and made this deal happen with a switch of bamboo'

To begin with, in the proposed settlement, the CFLPA did eliminate the option-year provision for all non-rookie contracts. So all minimum contracts for veterans are now only one year. This would appear to have both positive and negative effects for the CFL. More talented bubble players from the NFL will be enticed to come to the CFL to try and relaunch themselves down south, but it also means the league will become more of a turnstile than it already is, with more, "here today, gone tomorrow," athletes, who are notoriously hard to market and brand. A realized positive for the existing players, though, is in the peak earning years of a veteran contract, the shorter the deal possible, the more money that can potentially be earned.

Another advertised win for the CFLPA, if this collective bargaining agreement (CBA) flies, is the "player safety" component, whereby the players can now only be made to wear pads once a week, in practice, during the regular season. However, since I can count on two hands the number of times I ever wore pads more than once a week in the 11 years I played in the CFL, I fail to see how this is a significant win, but I suppose it is good to have assurances. A more important "player safety" component would have been having an independent neurologist on the sideline for every game, to which the CFL essentially said, "thanks, but we're good here."

Additionally, should the votes tally up, the ratification bonuses will be promoted to the membership as a significant win. A tiered system was agreed to where the longer you have been in the CFL, the more money you get, and it ranges from a one-time payoff of $1,500 up to $12,000. Considering what the CFL made the union eat, though, this must be the garnish supposed to make the dish more palatable to the players. Ratification bonuses are nothing more than a one-time salve to treat the burns of conceding negotiable terms, and those terms are numerous in this CBA.

For once upon a time, at the start of the negotiation, reintroducing a revenue-sharing percentage tied to the salary cap was the be all, end all for the CFLPA. While it should be noted there is now a provision to re-examine this concept if league revenues hit astronomical levels, this concept was gone like the wind, seemingly weeks ago. The two parties did negotiate a $5,000 increase to the minimum salary, which goes up by $1,000 every year, and a new salary cap that goes up by $50,000 every year, which sounds considerable until you realize the new TV deal goes up by a million dollars every season.

Lastly, the biggest item of contention, the division of the $2.7 million in new television revenue each team receives, ended with the league increasing its salary cap proposal from $4.5 million to $5.0 million (plus the one-time ratification bonuses), and the CFLPA came down almost $2 million from an initial ask of $6.8 million.

I will tell you one thing the CFLPA did win, indisputably, in this negotiation, that has not yet been reported: A monstrous legal bill for a CBA where, in the opinion of many, very little was actually accomplished outside of creating more animosity and a deeper divide between management and labour.

As stated, the most important outcome of a successful ratification vote and negotiation between the CFL and CFLPA is the season would proceed without interruption, and the fans of Canadian football would not be penalized for their increasing interest in the game. If the vote does pass, which many expect it to, the players may soon forget all of the things they were once told they could achieve in this deal, but they won't soon forget who told it to them.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2014 D4

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