On Thursday afternoon, the CFL commissioner did his usual song and dance over a series of public appearances in Vancouver as part of his annual fan engagement tour, spouting optimism about the ongoing collective bargaining talks and talking glowingly of a new partnership with the players.
Minutes after he walked off the stage, the carefully crafted illusion shattered. The CFLPA sent a memo to its membership informing them that negotiations had stalled and that they had left talks early that same day, refusing an ultimatum made under the threat of a lawsuit from the league to guarantee players would report to training camp even if a strike was imminent.
Now, with days to go until the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on May 14, the CFL and the CFLPA are in open warfare. The months of spin and faux understanding pedaled by Ambrosie exposed as meaningless. After all, the commissioner is just a messenger, not even in the meetings and designed to be shot as protection for the hard-ball negotiators on the CFL’s Board of Governors, namely Hamilton’s Scott Mitchell and Winnipeg’s Wade Miller.
Forced to go public in order to keep their membership informed, the Canadian Football League Players’ Association says they aren’t looking to negotiate in the media. They are sounding alarm bells however, issuing a dire warning about what the league is currently offering them.
“With their latest proposal, the CFL is threatening to fundamentally change Canadian football. That worries our bargaining team and our membership and the CFL’s position should concern fans and league partners as well,” CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian said.
“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.”
Executive director Brian Ramsay echoed that sentiment.
“We believe the CFL’s current position on a number of critical and outstanding items will have significant negatives, not only on our membership, but the game itself,” he warned.
The contents of the league’s current proposal, as depicted in the CFLPA memo, are damning. A ten-year agreement with no increases to the salary cap, rollbacks to current injury-prevention measures, and — most startlingly — the proposed elimination of the Canadian starting ratio in its entirety, as well as a reduction in the number of Canadian players.
The union is no stranger to facing hardline tactics from the league, but this appears to be less low-ball opening offer and more scorched earth power play.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way, as the two sides had worked closely together throughout the pandemic and saw some early progress in negotiations through an “interest-based” strategy. Yet the league has refused what the CFLPA says are repeated attempts to schedule more time for talks, dragging its feet to create the pressure of a deadline.