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With talks looming, CFLPA calls for strike vote

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The Canadian Football League moved one step closer to its first work stoppage in 40 years with word this week the CFLPA has requested a strike mandate from the league's players.

Multiple sources confirmed Tuesday with still no meaningful progress on a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players, the CFLPA last week called for a strike vote and preparations are now being made to conduct a secret ballot via mail in the coming days.

The current contract between the CFL and CFLPA doesn't expire until May 31, but sources indicated conducting a strike vote will be cumbersome and time consuming because it will have to take into account varying labour laws in six provinces as well as players living in two different countries, many of whom are already in transit with training camps set to open June 1.

The call for a strike vote comes just days before the league and players association are set to meet for two days of talks in Toronto Thursday and Friday -- a session one player source described on Tuesday as "make or break."

Neither the CFL nor the CFLPA was commenting officially Tuesday on the state of talks or the meaning of a strike vote. But an email sent by CFLPA president Scott Flory to players last week first revealed by Sportsnet's Arash Madani on Tuesday described a wide gulf between the league and players on a number of contentious issues.

"It is the position of your negotiating committee that the position of the CFL in relation to almost all matters and their refusal to have the cap in some way connected to revenue are unreasonable," Madani quoted the email as saying. "As a result, we are recommending that the players proceed with a strike vote."

While there hasn't been a work stoppage in the CFL since 1974, the CFLPA believes a new broadcast rights deal with TSN that nearly triples TV revenues beginning in 2014 -- coupled with new or newly renovated stadiums across the league and a new franchise in Ottawa -- provides the players their best chance in decades to regain some of the ground they lost in previous contracts.

Topping the list of player demands is a return to some form of revenue-sharing arrangement, which the players used to enjoy but gave up in a previous contract.

The league has refused to even entertain the possibility of a return to revenue sharing and has responded with a proposal that would see the current salary cap of $4.4 million rise to $5 million over the life of an eight-year contract the league is proposing.

The league's owners and management believe CFL players, who are the second-best-paid pro football players in the world after the NFL, will ultimately capitulate to the league's demands when faced with the prospect of giving up paycheques in a work stoppage.

The players, on the other hand, believe their demands are modest and they will have support of the fans once the issues become more widely known. If this week's talks fail to generate any meaningful progress, the CFLPA -- which has to this point respected the league's stand that no negotiating take place through the media -- may take their case to the public as early as next week.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2014 C4

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