Commissioner Mark Cohon is reaching out to the Canadian Football League’s fanbase for some support as labour talks with the players’ union reach a "critical" stage.
In a letter to fans after talks broke off during the latest bargaining session, Cohon outlined details of the league’s most recent offer that he said was rejected by the CFL Players Association on May 16.
- A 12 per cent increase in average player salary this season, to $92,917.
- An 11 per cent hike of the minimum salary, to $50,000. The players are countering with a minimum salary of $55,000 with a 10 per cent increase annually.
- A nine per cent rise in the salary cap, from $4.4 million to $4.8 million.
“The union’s bargaining team has … put forward an unrealistic proposal, which if adopted, would threaten the very existence of the CFL,” Cohon said in his letter.
“We want training camp to open and our full pre-season and regular-season schedule to be played. We don’t want a work stoppage.”
The current collective bargaining agreement expires May 30, on the eve of training camps for the 2014 season.
Pre-season games are slated to start June 9 and the regular season would begin June 26.
The players, through CFLPA president Scott Flory, have previously stated they would not begin the season under terms of the expiring CBA while the sides negotiate.
"It's unfortunate that it's come to this," Flory said. "We had an agreement in place on a 24-hour ban on making statements to the media and they broke that here today. Again we are disappointed.
"Today appears to be, from our perspective, an orchestrated attack . . . we were a little shocked and feel a little bit ambushed about what happened today."
Cohon said the league had the "legal right" to speak to players.
"If you look at our negotiations in 2010 and over the last several months to this point we absolutely have not spoken to the media and we've all been resolute about that," Cohon said. "I think we got to a point in the negotiations where we put what we felt was a fair and reasonable offer in front of the players and players' association and they rejected that offer and came back with something that was untenable and clearly not reflective of where we are as a league today and where we're trying to get to.
"We had the opportunity and the legal right to go out and speak directly to the players and that's exactly what we needed to do to clearly communicate to them that what we're trying to do is put a fair and reasonable deal in front of the players."
In an effort to sweeten the pot for players, the CFL’s offer includes a ratification bonus of $3,000 to longtime players and $1,000 to rookies who are on a roster as of June 22 should they agree to a deal before June 2.
As far as player safety and welfare, the league proposes to increase the size of game-day rosters from 42 to 44 players, and limit the number of contact practices during training camp and the regular season.
Players' proposal 'not realistic': Cohon
The players’ union, according to Cohon, responded Tuesday with a salary cap increase to $6.24 million in 2014.
“We advised the CFLPA … that their proposal was not realistic, and would not form the basis for any financial settlement,” added Cohon.
A week ago, the CFLPA reportedly recommended its membership proceed with a strike vote.
There was a strike in 1974, the only one since the formation of the CFLPA in 1965. It lasted three weeks during training camp before a three-year agreement was reached with no regular-season games lost.
The players are said to be pushing for revenue sharing, something that wasn’t included in the 2010 CBA, while the CFL is believed to be pursuing a fixed cap.
Cohon said the league’s offer would share revenue with players “but we cannot agree to an approach that would focus solely on our teams’ revenues while ignoring their costs and the investments we must make to modernize, stabilize and maximize the CFL.”
The commissioner went on to note the league must invest in its digital properties, social media, marketing and ticketing “and the fan experience in our stadiums.”
The list of the players’ demands is also said to include:
- One season worth of salary if a player suffers a career-ending injury, which would be paid over four years to assist him in his transition out of football.
- The removal of the option year from contracts, a clause that keeps players under team control and, the union claims, diminishes their chances to look for work in the National Football League.
- A greater pension contribution from the league.
- Increase to playoff share and hike to Grey Cup bonus cheque.
The CFLPA reportedly is also proposing four new clauses for the CBA, including
- Make it mandatory for each team to have an independent neurologist on the sidelines for all games. Last November, Cohon revealed there were 43 reported concussions during the 2013 CFL season.
- Allow players to obtain a second opinion from a medical doctor of their choice in relation to the condition of their health after an injury.
- The CFL spend a minimum $100,000 a year for the "sole purpose of conducting research in relation to injury and concussions in the CFL," and that the research be jointly agreed upon by the union and league.
- That football operation employees, including players, coaches, trainers, equipment personnel and sideline staff, be required to attend a seminar during training camp, providing further education on brain injuries, concussions, concussion symptoms, second impact syndrome and the treatment of concussions.