The Canadian Football League is playing a dirty game with its players and a risky one with fans.
By adding language to standard player contracts, the league has been putting the screws to hundreds of CFLers as a means of extracting a more favourable Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here is an example:
“The Club agrees to pay the subject Player a bonus of $18,000.00 (Canadian Funds) if he is on the Roster on March 15, 2019. Payment(s) due to the Player under this paragraph are payable no earlier than the date of ratification of the renewal collective bargaining agreement.”
It’s a bonus earned, but not paid.
That tactic was apparently not eliciting the expected results at the bargaining table, so last week the CFL called off all negotiating sessions until April 29, telling the CFL Players Association there were other league priorities. That was quite a message, given that the current CBA expires May 18, the first day of training camp.
The CFLPA went public with the news, the CFL stayed mute, and the battle lines were redrawn. CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay said he was frustrated and disappointed by the delay.
But he couldn’t have been surprised that the league would employ another pressure tactic. And indeed, CFLPA leadership polled the membership earlier this week to gauge the level of resolve, then responded Wednesday with a warning from Ramsay: CFLPA members will not attend the opening of training camps without a ratified CBA in place.
“Today’s events should not come as a shock,” Calgary punter Rob Maver wrote on Twitter. “You have an employer withholding contractually agreed-upon pay, while refusing to negotiate a new collective agreement. Why would anybody continue to work beyond the expiration of the current CBA under these terms?”
Good question, respectfully posed.
Not every player is going to control his emotions or verbiage in the same way. In fact, the standoff has created a communication void that promises to be filled with ever more unflattering commentary from increasingly frustrated players.
“Let’s be honest. The CFL is effectively starving all players in an effort to pressure us into signing some bs cba,” Edmonton defensive back Anthony Orange tweeted. “This strategy is dirty and disrespectful. We will not be bullied. We will not play if there is no cba. There is no cfl without the players.”
Sure enough, no fan buys a ticket hoping to run into B.C. Lions owner David Braley or Hamilton’s so-called caretaker Bob Young in the beer line. Fans want to see Hamilton receiver Brandon Banks dance down the sideline and B.C. defender Odell Willis sack a quarterback. But the players don’t cash a game cheque unless Braley and Young have the money to pay them.
They need one another, and you might think a symbiotic relationship like theirs would generate enough mutual respect to keep everyone at the bargaining table and away from the big bag of dirty tricks.
Instead, the CFL has applied undue time and financial pressure, the CFLPA has promised to withhold services, and the two sides are staggering together but apart toward a labour disruption that neither side can afford. Players need bonuses and game cheques, teams need revenue from ticket sales, sponsorship, advertising and media rights.
It is always thought that players will blink first in this situation.
They signed their contracts knowing full well that a contentious period of bargaining was on the horizon and their bonuses were twisting in the harsh wind. But there wasn’t much choice. If they rejected the notion of bonuses tied to the new CBA, they weren’t playing football and earning game cheques during last season.
However, the league has much at stake here, too, including the positive momentum it has generated with its global outreach initiative, CFL 2.0. Losing a public relations battle with the players and delaying the start of the season would halt that momentum and send the wrong message to potential partners around the globe.
It would also irritate a domestic fan base that can so easily walk away from the football stadium to find any number of entertainment options. And there are already CFL fans expressing their displeasure with the actions of commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
He’s the face of the league leadership and an easy target. But the real power is held by the CFL’s Board of Governors, the people who pay Ambrosie’s salary and, in matters of league finance, ensure he does what they want him to do with their money.
Team owners want to control expenses, and at this point in the game of labour negotiations, players are expenses. It’s a business, after all, and it can be a dirty one.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019