TORONTO — The CFL faces a partial strike at the start of training camp, then a full-blown work stoppage shortly afterwards.
Brian Ramsay, the executive director of the CFL Players’ Association, said Thursday if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached by May 18, players with the B.C. Lions, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes won’t report to the start of their respective training camps the following day. That’s because they’ll be in a legal strike position and have been instructed by the union not to show up.
Ramsay said players on CFL teams in Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary) and Ontario (Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton) won’t be in a legal strike position until May 23. They’ve been instructed to report to the start of training camp but could legally walk out four days later.
"There will some teams that will have to follow slightly different provincial labour laws," Ramsay said during a conference call. "We’re trying to get a deal and those four provinces that will be in a legal position, then we will be on strike and they won’t show up for camp.
"We’re going to ensure our players, if necessary, once they’ve followed the appropriate provincial labour laws, will be on strike on those provinces (Alberta, Ontario) as well."
Ramsay wasn’t concerned a partial walkout could potentially split the membership. That’s because of the union’s belief all players would be in a legal strike position just four days after camps open.
"Not at all," he said. "We’ve talked as a membership, we’re going to ensure that our players are following labour laws as they have to … it’s only four days."
Ramsay again reiterated the CFLPA’s top priority is hammering out a deal at the negotiation table.
"Although we’re preparing and working through the different labour codes, our No. 1 priority as a membership right now is to try and find a solution," he said. "We remain ready to negotiate any day and at any time.
"We want to play football when training camps open. But we only want to do it when we have a fair agreement in place and the needs of the players are recognized and taken seriously."
The CFL and its players began negotiations March 11. They started talking about monetary issues last week but reportedly remain far apart on a number of fronts.
The latest round of talks concluded Wednesday following three straight days of bargaining. Ramsay said afterwards the two sides weren’t, "necessarily where we need to be right now," in order to reach a settlement.
"We want to play football when training camps open," Ramsay said. "But we only want to do it when we have a fair agreement in place and the needs of the players are recognized and taken seriously.
"We’re going to need both sides to work together and understand each other’s issues."
And, B.C. Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala said, both sides will have to make difficult decisions in order to secure a deal.
"We know it’s coming down to the wire," he said. "There’s been some progress but there’s going to be some major concessions that need to happen on both sides.
"But we have to make sure we take care of our members, which is our No. 1 priority."
The CFL and CFLPA will resume talks Sunday and have scheduled three straight bargaining sessions through Tuesday.
Contract talks in 2014 between the CFL and CFLPA were testy. Negotiations broke down several times and there was even a threat of a strike before players ultimately reported to camp and a five-year and both sides hammered out a five-year agreement.
However, there’s persistent talk the two sides are further apart now than they were at this time five years ago.
CFL players have gone on strike once, in 1974, but the situation was settled prior to the start of the regular season.
A common theme throughout these negotiations has been the league and its players forming a partnership to help grow the game. CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has often made that statement, as has Ramsay and many of his constituents.
However, the league’s decision to withhold payment of off-season player bonuses until a new deal is ratified has irked many within CFLPA members.
Ramsay has a clear vision on what constitutes a fair partnership.
"A fair partnership is an equitable voice on the growth of the game, the health and safety measures of the game and a feeling that we’re growing and working together," he said. "For a number of years our membership has not been treated equitably.
"We look at health and safety and where some of our members have been the last number of years. We’ve said that has to change and it’s going to change. That’s a partnership moving forward because we all want the same thing. We want a strong, healthy sustainable league."