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.
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.