CFL

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - Jeff.hamil­[email protected]­ress.mb.ca twit­ter: @jef­fkhamil­ton

Though in 2014, the last time the CBA was rat­i­fied, a deal wasn’t done un­til June 13, two weeks past the May 29 ex­piry date and two weeks shy of when the reg­u­lar sea­son opened on June 26. That year, there was po­ten­tial for a work stop­page, as vet­eran play­ers had al­ready voted on a right to strike.

There has only been one strike since the CFLPA formed in 1965. It hap­pened in 1974 and in­cluded the for­fei­ture of three weeks of train­ing camp, but even with the lost time, no reg­u­larsea­son games were af­fected.

Both sides ap­pear ea­ger to get to­gether sooner rather than later, but that will­ing­ness to sit down and talk doesn’t en­sure ne­go­ti­a­tions will go smoothly. Ex­pect this one to take a while, with a work stop­page cer­tainly not out of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity. IT’S safe to say what both sides are look­ing for is a fair deal. But as is the case in ev­ery in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tion, what’s fair for one party isn’t nec­es­sar­ily fair to the other. Still, there are some crit­i­cal com­po­nents that will surely be de­bated on.

At the top of the list are im­prove­ments in player safety. While elim­i­nat­ing full-con­tact padded-prac­tices and adding a third bye week was a step in the right di­rec­tion, the player’s union has hinted in re­cent weeks that they’ll be look­ing for more in this area.

That list in­cludes bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the CFL’s rules com­mit­tee, which is tasked with de­bat­ing and im­ple­ment­ing rule changes into the game. As it stands, the CFLPA has just one of 11 votes on the com­mit­tee, which has been viewed by the player’s union as an un­fairly quiet voice in a group dom­i­nated by league rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Long-term dis­abil­ity cov­er­age will also be sought af­ter by the CFLPA, though the union has in­sisted this isn’t some­thing play­ers feel should be used as a bar­gain­ing chip in ne­go­ti­a­tions. In­stead, the union be­lieves it should be of­fered to play­ers sim­ply as a sign of good faith that the league cares about its play­ers. Cur­rently, CFL play­ers are not en­ti­tled to work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion — along with other pro­fes­sional ath­letes in Canada — and are pro­vided just one year of cov­er­age from the date of in­jury.

The Free Press, at the CFL’s state of the league ad­dress last month, asked Am­brosie why he didn’t think it was the CFL’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to cover long-term in­juries that hap­pened on the play­ing field. The com­mis­sioner dodged the ques­tion, un­able to come up with an an­swer, but did men­tion it was some­thing that would be dis­cussed dur­ing CBA ne­go­ti­a­tions. Ask any player in the league and a ma­jor­ity will tell you that long-term health cov­er­age is at the top of the list of pri­or­i­ties, mak­ing this is­sue ar­guably the big­gest con­cern for both sides.

An in­crease in the salary cap and to league-min­i­mum salaries will also be top of mind. When the CBA was com­pleted in 2014, it came a year af­ter the sign­ing of a mas­sive five-year TV deal be­tween the CFL and TSN/RDS, worth a re­ported $43 mil­lion an­nu­ally — a sub­stan­tial in­crease from $15 mil­lion per sea­son in the pre­vi­ous agree­ment. That deal has since been ex­tended through the 2021 sea­son.

The con­sid­er­able in­crease in cash re­sulted in a boost to the CFL’s salary cap, jump­ing from $4.4 to $5 mil­lion, with an in­crease of $50,000 for each sub­se­quent sea­son ($5.2 mil­lion was the cap in 2018). While it’s been de­bated as to whether there will be a sub­stan­tial in­crease this time around —

“I have a pretty good sense that the cap isn’t go­ing to move a whole lot, if at all,” Ottawa Red­blacks GM Mar­cel Des­jardins said in a re­cent TSN ra­dio in­ter­view — one thing play­ers, par­tic­u­larly Amer­i­cans, will want is a bump in the min­i­mum salary.

The min­i­mum in 2018 was $54,000 — the re­sult of a $1,000 in­crease per sea­son from the $50,000 agreed upon in 2014. Even with the ma­jor boost in cash flow from the TV deal, the min­i­mum salary jump to $50,000 was just a

$5,000 raise from what it was the year be­fore the CBA was rat­i­fied.

A big­ger in­crease in the min­i­mum salary should help at­tract bet­ter tal­ent from the U.S. — the ma­jor­ity of play­ers inked to lower-in­come deals — but it might also pre­vent the CFL from los­ing gifted play­ers al­ready play­ing in the league.

With new pro­fes­sional foot­ball leagues pop­ping up, in­clud­ing the Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball, an eight­team league that will be­gin play in Fe­bru­ary, and one that has a stan­dard con­tract of a com­bined US$250,000 over three sea­sons, plus bonuses, along with a re­boot of the XFL com­ing in

2020, the risk of los­ing play­ers seems more real than ever. THERE’S a com­mon mis­un­der­stand­ing that the com­mis­sioner has been re­spon­si­ble for ne­go­ti­at­ing the CBA on be­half of the league. That’s not the case.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions are pri­mar­ily the duty of the player re­la­tions com­mit­tee — a group made up of league pres­i­dents and own­ers that have been nom­i­nated by the CFL’s board of gover­nors. Se­nior labour and em­ploy­ment at­tor­ney Stephen Shamie has acted as the prin­ci­pal ne­go­tia­tor for the CFL.

Ac­cord­ing to sources, it was Shamie’s sug­ges­tion to aban­don off­sea­son bonuses un­til a new CBA was reached — a tac­tic to limit play­ers from amass­ing a war chest to sus­tain them dur­ing a walk­out — which was ap­proved by the league. Shamie is a shrewd ne­go­tia­tor with more than a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing for the CFL, in­clud­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing the 2014 deal.

As for the com­mis­sioner, who is hired by and works for the league, the role has tra­di­tion­ally been to per­suade the board of gover­nors to act on what he be­lieves might be the best op­tion. Am­brosie, a for­mer CFL player, has talked at length about the need to lis­ten to play­ers, but whether that ex­tends to his con­ver­sa­tions with the board of gover­nors is still to be de­ter­mined.

On the CFLPA side, past ne­go­ti­a­tions have shown that the union’s ex­ec­u­tive, which in­cluded the pres­i­dent and vi­cepres­i­dents, as well as their own le­gal coun­sel, have been the main play­ers. But if the past three years sug­gest any­thing, it’s pos­si­ble the union could take a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ap­proach this year.

The CFLPA has gone through sev­eral changes over the last few years, moves that have them bet­ter-pre­pared for the ne­go­ti­a­tions ahead. They’ve added an ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor in Brian Ram­say, who as­sumes a role that didn’t ex­ist when the two sides last met to ne­go­ti­ate a CBA.

Play­ers also ap­pear more in­volved this time around, thanks to ef­forts by the CFLPA to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween its ex­ec­u­tive and mem­ber­ship. A monthly news­let­ter up­dates play­ers of devel­op­ments, and there has been a spike in me­dia re­leases to pro­vide more trans­parency.

Ram­say noted dur­ing Grey Cup week that im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and mem­ber­ship re­mains one of the top pri­or­i­ties for the CFLPA, and unity is paramount through­out ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Once a new CBA has been ne­go­ti­ated, it still must get a fi­nal stamp of ap­proval from each side be­fore go­ing into ef­fect.

RUS­SELL HONS PHOTO

Win­nipeg’s Brady Oliveira has fin­ished his run­ning back ca­reer at the Univer­sity of North Dakota and is now hop­ing to break into the NFL.

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