The CFL Season Starts Today!
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The CFL Season Starts Today!

By Andrew Regnerus, CLAC Representative

No, I didn’t set my clock forward three months instead of just one hour. This week, the CFL season of contract talks between the team owners and the players’ association (CFLPA) starts.

I’m a union guy who likes labour relations to be done well. I’m also a patriotic sports fan. So, naturally, Ken Georgetti’s role in the CFL contract talks caught my attention.

I thought the heavy partnership tone in the news piece was at odds with Georgetti’s appointment. Certainly, a partnership approach ought to improve player safety during practices and games and long term security against career-ending injury.

I spoke with former CFL player Peter Dyankowski last week. Peter is candidate in a Hamilton, Ontario, riding for the next federal election. Another former Hamilton Ticat player, Marwan Hage, recently withdrew from running in another riding and is on the CFLPA bargaining committee.

Dyankowski told me about the misfortunes of injured US players in the CFL who have no long term social safety net provided by statute or collective bargaining. He told me that a player might get 12 months disability and a contract cancellation after a career-ending injury.

So, this is an important issue, one whose resolution is best achieved by partnership, as the parties to these talks appear to recognize.

Brian Ramsay, CFLPA executive director, said the “union’s stance is to establish a true partnership where both sides accept the risks and rewards of the game equally” and that money and safety—often union priorities—are but “two components of true partnership.” Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, too, is “anxious to form a partnership with players.”

Even Georgetti mentioned “real partnership,” albeit in sharing risks and rewards and in improved relationships between the league and the players.

I’ve always thought that CLAC’s progressive approach would be suitable for professional sports. And here CFL leaders on both sides are speaking about partnership!

I hope that sentiment prevails. The CFL is a small-market sport. It’s hard to keep all nine teams going. The team salary cap is less than what the top players on each team are paid in the big four sports in North America. The minimum salary is about one-tenth that of the NHL.

The CFLPA should seek to improve player safety with a win-win, interest-based strategy. Since money isn’t readily available, the focus of negotiations should be on improving contract terms and conditions.

I hope for the sake of the players and the game that positional negotiating doesn’t occur. Georgetti’s history of “intelligent militancy” with the United Steelworkers involving strategic strikes and boycotts show that he hasn’t always led with partnership. And his time at the helm of the Canadian Labour Congress was as adversarial as that of his predecessor, Bob White.

Georgetti wants job security for CFL players like NFL-style guaranteed contracts. He said that in the CFL, “the sharing of the risk is disproportionate” and “the financial sharing of the rewards is abysmal, frankly.”

There’s the Ken Georgetti we recognize! That’s his usual bargaining tone.

And maybe that’s what the CFLPA wants. Maybe they want his experience with rallying the troops during negotiations this week.

I wish all stakeholders success in their talks and a good conclusion by opening day, June 13. The Ticats host the Roughriders, and I’m hoping to be there!

May progressive labour relations work as well this week for the CFL—and for more and more workers in many other sectors and industries—as it has for CLAC since 1952.

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