May 25, 2019

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Opinion

CFL season hangs in balance as league, players' union resort to letter writing

The CFL and its players union, the CFL Player’s Association continue to bargain without any signs of notable progress.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

The CFL and its players union, the CFL Player’s Association continue to bargain without any signs of notable progress.

Will the CFL season start on time?

It’s a perfectly reasonable question and one that many fans and pundits of the three-down game have been asking for months. The need for clarity has only heated up in recent weeks as the CFL Player’s Association and the league continue to bargain without any signs of notable progress.

Take, for instance, the biggest news to come out Thursday’s media conference with prominent members of the CFLPA. While the union continued to echo their strong — and I’d argue, genuine — message of wanting to reach a solution before the CBA expires May 18, they also, albeit begrudgingly, addressed whatever loose ends existed on whether they’re actually prepared to strike.

What sparked reporters to probe CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay on what’s starting to feel like a real chance for a work stoppage was a letter CFL general managers sent to their players late last month. In the letter, first reported by 3downnation and penned by league executives, the CFL informed a majority of its players — specifically those on teams in Ontario (Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa) and Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary) — that they were prohibited from striking due to provincial labour laws.

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Will the CFL season start on time?

It’s a perfectly reasonable question and one that many fans and pundits of the three-down game have been asking for months. The need for clarity has only heated up in recent weeks as the CFL Player’s Association and the league continue to bargain without any signs of notable progress.

CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay .

CFLPA.COM

CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay .

Take, for instance, the biggest news to come out Thursday’s media conference with prominent members of the CFLPA. While the union continued to echo their strong — and I’d argue, genuine — message of wanting to reach a solution before the CBA expires May 18, they also, albeit begrudgingly, addressed whatever loose ends existed on whether they’re actually prepared to strike.

What sparked reporters to probe CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay on what’s starting to feel like a real chance for a work stoppage was a letter CFL general managers sent to their players late last month. In the letter, first reported by 3downnation and penned by league executives, the CFL informed a majority of its players — specifically those on teams in Ontario (Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa) and Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary) — that they were prohibited from striking due to provincial labour laws.

Players were also told they would receive a plane ticket to report to training camp on May 19, adding that anyone not protected by labour laws and who choose to sit out would be punished. Retribution included being placed on the league’s suspension list and having to cover the travel costs of getting to camp when and if a new deal is reached.

"A fair partnership is an equitable voice on the growth of the game, on the health and safety measures for the game and a feeling that we’re growing and working together," Ramsay said. "For a number of years, our membership has not been treated equitably. That has to change. It is going to change."

In a previous interview with the Free Press, Ramsay was more blunt in his assessment, claiming the CFL carries the belief that "it’s their league and they’ll run it the way they want."

If that’s what the CFL truly believes, the league either doesn’t fully understand the preparedness of the CFLPA or just doesn’t care.

Either way, it could prove costly to the future of the CFL and its nine member clubs, all of whom are hoping something gets done in time for the start of the season.

“A fair partnership is an equitable voice on the growth of the game, on the health and safety measures for the game and a feeling that we’re growing and working together. For a number of years, our membership has not been treated equitably. That has to change. It is going to change" – CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay

It’s safe to assume the league was given a bit of a wakeup call when the CFLPA retaliated with a letter of their own, sent to every league GM and head coach earlier this week.

The letter was provided to the Free Press by a source who was given a copy. Ramsay began the letter by outlining the players’ desire to find a fair settlement, adding they are committed to the players’ needs, all of which have been discussed and debated over the last couple of years. More pointed, Ramsay painted a picture for the teams’ front offices that if the league does "force" players to attend camp, it would create an unfair advantage for nearly half the league’s clubs.

"If our talks with the League fail, job action will happen on the 18th of May, prior to the opening training camp. We think it makes sense that all teams would not start training camp if that happens, however the league sees it differently and will allow a situation to occur that could possibly give some teams a significant competitive advantage," Ramsay wrote. "As you are aware, this means that teams in Alberta and Ontario will be allowed to participate in both practice and meetings sessions ahead of the other four teams."

The CFLPA has recommended its players not report to training camp if a new CBA hasn’t been reached. Last month, players voted 97.3 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. For players on teams in Alberta and Ontario who are required to report to training camp, Ramsay said they’ll be expected to attend camp until May 23 in order to fulfill their labour requirements before joining their teammates on the picket line.

As for players on the four teams outside of Alberta and Ontario, no longer is there any fear of losing report-and-pass bonuses — bonuses that are paid out for reporting to camp and passing a physical. According to another source, the CFLPA has reached an agreement with the league after it threatened to fly its members home days after teams fly them in for camp. It only made financial sense for teams to back down.

Indeed, it’s been a series of mind games between both sides, with each attempting to throw off their opponent in the hope of gaining an upper edge at the negotiation table. Unlike the CFLPA, which has held media conferences after nearly every negotiation, the league has hidden in the shadows, refusing to comment.

Instead, they’ve let their actions do the talking.

The CFL continues to withhold paying off-season bonuses until a new CBA is signed. Last month they decided to delay talks, which resulted in a two-week hiatus. In the view of many players, the decision to halt negotiations was just another attempt to weaken the resolve of the CFLPA.

"We remain ready to negotiate any day and any time. But we only want to do that when we have a fair agreement in place and the needs of the players are recognized and are taken seriously," Ramsay said. "The issue is we’ve run into nothing but delays from the league side."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography

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