CFLPA negotiating committee recommends players proceed with strike vote

The CFL and the CFLPA are still miles apart in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, and the threat of missed games just became a little more clear and present. According to documents obtained by Sportsnet's Arash Madani, the CFLPA's negotiating committee is recommending the union proceed with a strike vote. There's less than a month to go until veteran players are expected to report to training camp, so this was somewhat inevitable (as new CFLPA president Scott Flory has indicated the players are not willing to play under the previous CBA during negotiations), but calling for a formal strike vote is still raising the ante and indicating that a negotiated compromise may not be possible before the season starts. As I discussed with CBC's Eric Anderson this week, the two sides are far enough apart that missed games would seem to be a real possibility. That impression is only further supported by the other details Madani includes of both sides' proposals thus far, which maintain the key philosophical divide over a flat cap number versus one tied to league revenues, and are generally a long ways apart on just about everything else as well. First, here's the memo Madani obtained about the strike vote:

“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,” reads an internal memo written by CFLPA President Scott Flory and distributed to all CFL players last Friday. “As a result, we are recommending that the Players proceed with a strike vote.”

That's a strongly-worded memo, and one that suggests this may not be worked out at the negotiation table before the season's set to start. It's supported by the other details Madani mentions. The league has proposed keeping the cap at a flat number, which is a non-starter for the union in general, but even its flat numbers are incredibly low (an increase of $100,000 in the cap each year, so from $4.4 million in 2013 to $4.5 million in 2014 to $5 million in 2021). (Update: It's actually only a $100,000 boost in 2014, 2015, 2020 and 2021; the other years, it's a $50,000 boost, so it averages $75,000 a year. Thanks, Shawn!) Yes, that's spread over nine teams (and potentially more if further expansion comes to life), but that would still only represent a league-wide payroll increase of $4.5 million in 2021, and one of just $900,000 this year.

By contrast, the CFL's new TV deal is reportedly worth $40 million this year alone, while the old one was worth $15.3 million. That's an increase of $24.7 million in league revenues, with only $900,000 of that being passed on into player salaries. (Of course, there is a new team that wasn't there last year, so that would be another $4.4 million in salaries, but that's just spreading the money amongst more players, not increasing any particular player's take.) It's easy to see why the players don't find that acceptable.

The divide over minimum salaries is also interesting, as that's one of the key arguments here. This fight isn't really about the CFL's starting quarterbacks (most of whom make $300,000 or more annually) or veteran skill position players (many of whom make six figures), but much more about the average CFL player who's closer to the minimum salary. That salary was $45,000 in 2013 and had been increasing by $1,000 per year. According to Madani, the league wants to reduce that rate of growth even further, making the minimum $46,000 this year, but capping it at $49,000 by 2021. The CFLPA is countering with a minimum of $55,000 and a 10 per cent increase annually (which would be $5,500 at $55,000). Those numbers may not sound that far apart, but when you consider the amount of players making league-minimum or near-minimum salaries, that's a drastic divide.

The key to what happens next is going to be how the CFLPA's strike vote goes, if it is in fact carried out. Flory and the players' negotiating committee have shown their resolve and indicated they're not willing to take the league's terms; the question is if their membership will support them, especially when the possibility of missing paycheques is becoming real. The players' election of Flory in March over incumbent Mike Morreale suggests they believed in his harder-line stance then, but will that belief hold up now a strike's a stronger possibility? The league appears to be betting that it won't, explaining the minimal compromises and limited share in the CFL's prosperity they've offered thus far. We'll see if the players cave as the league expects, or if they'll officially strike and make missing games even more of a real possibility.