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TORONTO — CFL Players' Association executive members Brian Ramsay and Solomon Elimimian emphasized Friday players won't report to training camp next week without a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement in place.
Ramsay, the union's executive director, and Elimimian, the CFLPA president, spoke with reporters a day after talks with the CFL broke down. The two sides aren't scheduled to resume meet again until Wednesday, giving them three days before the expiration of the current deal.
Training camps are slated to open Sunday, with Winnipeg at Saskatchewan scheduled to kick off the pre-season May 23.
"We have made it clear we will not report to training camp without a new and fair collective agreement in place before the current agreement expires," Elimimian said. "We're ready to get a fair deal . . . at this time we have little confidence the CFL will meet us in getting a fair deal."
Added Ramsay: "Our goal is to try and get a deal but we've also been very clear from the start we're not going to enter into training camp without that fair deal. We've advised our membership to speak to their clubs, to push those flights back as long as possible in the hope we can find a deal in time."
Ramsay added the CFL has informed the union that players arriving to training camp before a strike would be responsible for covering their travel costs home if a work stoppage occurred.
Contract talks broke down Thursday after the union rejected the league's proposal for a 10-year deal with no increases to the salary cap and eliminated the Canadian ratio. In a memo to its members, the CFLPA said while it and the league "have been able to find common ground on a number of issues," several key issues remain.
The memo included:
• A 10-year agreement with no increases to the salary cap. That figure was $5.35 million last season
• A revenue-sharing program the union states is "not likely to show any significant growth by the CFL’s own accord, until the TSN contract is renewed in five years."
• Earlier in negotiations, the two sides spoke about guaranteed contracts, but "the CFL has now removed the PA’s proposal to allow players to negotiate guaranteed contracts."
• The league wants teams to return to padded practices, "even with a decrease of 35 per cent of on-field injuries, yet refuses to support our proposal for coverage for those same on-field injuries."
• the elimination of the Canadian ratio and veteran American ratio as well as a reduction of Canadians on the roster. In the current agreement, CFL rosters must include 21 Canadians, of which seven must be starters.
"With their latest proposal, the CFL is threatening to fundamentally change Canadian football," Elimimian said. "That worries our bargaining team and membership and the CFL's position should concern fans and league partners as well.
"The latest proposal by the CFL makes the game less safe, less competitive and desirable, provides less stability, dismisses the players' important role as key partners in the game's growth. And it makes it less Canadian."
The CFL issued two statements via social media Friday, the second of which dealt with the matter of establishing a partnership with the players.
"We are deeply committed to a long term, mutually beneficial partnership with our players," it said. "This was true when this bargaining process started and it will be true when we reach a collective bargaining agreement and beyond."
A couple of hours earlier, the CFL tweeted: "Canadian players are the lifeblood of the CFL game, along with the veteran American players who make a career here. That will not change."
The NHL Players' Association took to social media Friday to lend its support to the CFLPA.
"The NHLPA stands in solidarity with the CFLPA in support of their efforts to achieve and fair and just CBA with the CFL," it tweeted.
This marks the fourth straight year the CFL and its players have met. After hammering out the current CBA before the '19 season, they gathered in 2020 to amend the agreement for a shortened season that didn't happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the two sides successfully did so last year, resulting in a return to the field for a 14-game campaign. And after an amicable start to these discussions, negotiations have again turned contentious and adversarial despite constant assurances from commissioner Randy Ambrosie of the league's desire to partner up with players.
"Following two years of unimaginable uncertainty, the CFL's current bargaining position reflects neither that of a partnership nor fair opportunity, both of which are paramount to our CFLPA membership," Ramsay said. "We've received a strong strike mandate (95 per cent) from our membership and unless the CFL returns to the table quickly with a reasonable package that recognizes the value the players deliver, protects their safety and provides adequate job protection we'll be forced into that uncertainty.
"We don't feel right now the partnership that the league has asked us to enter into is the type of partnership we're comfortable with if that's the proposal right now on the table."
CFL players have gone on strike once, in 1974, but the situation was settled before the start of the regular season.
"A work stoppage right now is not what's been on our mind all the way through," Ramsay said. "Now, we're going to make sure we're prepared in order to protect our membership . . . but we've come into these talks from the very start trying to find a fair settlement.
"I don't think a work stoppage is in anyone's interest but right now we're anywhere near achieving a fair settlement and that's not in our members' interests."
Four years earlier, contract talks between the CFL and CFLPA were also testy. Negotiations broke down several times and there was even a threat of a strike before players ultimately reported to camp and both sides hammered out a five-year agreement.
But linebacker Simoni Lawrence of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who's entering his 10th CFL season, took to social media to offer some advice.
"Keep your composure," he tweeted. "I seen this happen over and over."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press