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Hammering together a deal needs to hurt a little

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If nothing else, the negotiations last week between the CFL and CFLPA were an interesting study of bargaining tactics in a labour dispute that has rapidly escalated into hostilities.

To review -- from the documents made available to several media outlets -- the first formal proposal from the CFL Players' Association to the league appears to have been on or about May 7. By my count the CFLPA had 110 itemized proposals, of which 96 were declined by the league, seven were agreed to and seven were under consideration.

The major asks were for a minimum salary of $55,000 and the return to the revenue-sharing model that guaranteed 56 per cent of defined gross revenues.

On May 9, the CFLPA communicated the responses and counter offer the CFL put forward, which, it is fair to say, was not well received by the players. With a $1,000 increase to the minimum salary and an extra $100,000 added to both the salary cap and salary minimum with no revenue sharing, it was about as low as lowballing gets and was summarily rejected by the union.

The next proposal from the CFL came six days later on May 15, although we didn't learn about its particulars until the CFL went public on May 21. This offer was more serious than the initial submission. The minimum salary went up another $4,000 to $50,000 and another $300,000 was tacked onto the salary cap, putting it at $4.8 million plus ratification bonuses if the players agreed to the deal.

While it was a better submission than the initial offering, without a cap tied to revenue it was still not what the players were looking for. So behind closed doors, the CFL asked the CFLPA to counter and submit what their idea of a fair proposal should be in relation to the salary cap, which is when things took a turn for the worse.

The CFL requested the proposal be sent to them before the meeting on May 21 so they could prepare a response. The CFLPA sent its second proposal on May 20. This proposal suggested a salary cap of $6.24 million for 2014, with the cap being attached to percentages of a number of CFL revenues going forward.

Expecting to discuss or negotiate this proposal, the CFLPA walked into a meeting with the CFL on May 21 where they learned nothing of the sort was going to take place. Seemingly realizing how far apart they were -- with more philosophical differences than actual monetary ones -- and understanding camp was mere days away and strike votes in the hands of the players, the CFL revealed their next strategy: a public campaign to sway opinion, while dangling one-time ratification bonuses in front of the players like a water bottle in front of a thirsty desert traveller.

Bank accounts

With the expectation at this point of the year the bank accounts of the players would be running on fumes, the CFL went to the airwaves with its first reasonable offer of increases and tried to sway the secret strike ballots to their favour with one-time cash payments. They didn't counter the CFLPA offer. They didn't ask the CFLPA to renegotiate their proposal. They went all in and pressured the players with a well co-ordinated blitz and walked away from the table.

While the current CFLPA executive -- aside from legal counsel head Ed Molstad -- is relatively new at this game, you don't have to be Donald Trump to recognize there is no such thing as a free handout in a labour dispute. The CFL doesn't just volunteer the veteran players a $3,000 payout and the rookies a $1,000 payment because it's their good deed of the day. The league is hoping the combination of their first legitimate contract movement, in conjunction with the petty cash, will create enough dissonance within the union to avert a unified strike vote. For when you are this close to training camp and nervous about what the future may hold, sometimes the allure of a guaranteed but modest gain may be too good to pass up.

Assuming the CFLPA membership doesn't take the bait, it would seem the next best course of action would be for the CFL to sit back down with the CFLPA and propose a settlement somewhere between the $6.24 million and $5 million (ratification bonuses included).

If one party cannot stomach a revenue-sharing arrangement, then it should be prepared to make considerable compromises in a number of other areas, such as the length of the CBA and the size of the deal.

An agreement needs to be reached that hurts both of the negotiating parties, but cripples neither.


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 May 27, 2014 C7

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