CFL, CFLPA establish respective bargaining units leading into contract talks

TORONTO — Contract talks between the CFL and CFL Players Association have yet to begin, but the two sides have established who’ll be at the table when negotiations do get underway.

No firm date has been set for the start of talks. The current collective bargaining agreement expires May 15.

Once again, the CFL’s bargaining unit will be led by Stephen Shamie, the league’s general counsel. Shamie was an integral figure in the last round of talks in 2014 with then commissioner Mark Cohon.

In an email, the league said Randy Ambrosie, the current CFL commissioner, will join Shamie this time around along with other board members as required.

Jeff Keeping will lead the union into collective bargaining. Keeping, a former offensive lineman with Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg, succeeded Scott Flory as CFLPA president in 2016.

Flory was in charge in 2014 during the last round of talks which resulted in the salary cap jumping from $4.4 million to $5 million with $50,000 annually increases over the five-year term of the deal. But Flory also came under fire for the union abandoning its proposals on revenue sharing and player safety.

Also representing the union will be executive director Brian Ramsay and first vice-president Marwan Hage, both also former offensive linemen. Ramsay was named to his current post in 2016 while Hage participated in the ‘14 negotiations on the players’ behalf.

Last month, Ramsay said when talks formally begin everything would be on the table. However long-term player care and money will both be top priorities for the union.

A key figure for the CFLPA this time around is expected to be Ken Georgetti, who was named a senior adviser in 2016. Georgetti is a former president of the Canadian Labour Congress who has over 35 years of labour relations experience.

Georgetti was elected vice-president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour in 1984 and two years later became the organization’s youngest-ever president. Georgetti is an Order of Canada recipient and was the longest serving president in CLC history.

In 2014, contract talks between the league and players were often testy. Negotiations broke down several times and there was even a threat of a players’ strike before both sides hammered out a five-year agreement.

CFL players have gone on strike before. The first — and last — time was 1974 but the situation was settled prior to the start of the regular season.

During Grey Cup week in Edmonton, Ambrosie, a former CFLPA secretary, called upcoming contract talks, ”the great unknown.” However he was confident a work stoppage could be avoided: “I’m optimistic.”

A positive sign heading into talks is familiarity exists between Ambrosie and the union. The two sides have been meeting on a monthly basis for some time.

Yet differences still exist.

The CFLPA spoke out against the CFL last January when Ambrosie upheld predecessor Jeffrey Orridge’s 2017 directive that teams refrain from paying players signing bonuses this off-season until a new CBA is ratified.

That move drew the ire of the CFLPA, which contended the directive made it nearly impossible for the start of positive discussions. And last March, the union filed a grievance against the league and its member clubs for failing to protect players from injuries.

It came after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it wouldn’t hear former player Arland Bruce III’s concussion lawsuit against the CFL and former commissioner Mark Cohon. Earlier, two B.C. courts — the Supreme Court of British Columbia and British Columbia Court of Appeal — dismissed the suit.

On Thursday, Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Derek Dennis expressed his frustration with the league’s refusal to pay off-season player bonuses until a new CBA is ratified.

“I been trying find a job for a month nobody will hire me cause I plan on continuing to play football and you got teams holding our bonuses,” Dennis tweeted. “I already lost half my pay by converting it and you still out here paying coaches I’m vexed right now.”

In another tweet, Dennis said: “Got me over here contemplating retirement so that I can go do something to feed my family for this 6 months while y’all deny guys they do cause you want to squeeze us into taking whatever deal…..”

Added Calgary punter Rob Maver on Twitter: “I urge people to remember this reality for (many) players when things go public. We aren’t greedy. We just want fair.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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