CFLPA doubles down on report-and-pass bonuses ahead of Wednesday’s strike vote

The Canadian Football League Players’ Association (CFLPA) has reaffirmed its promise that a new CBA will not be signed unless the league agrees to pay out report-and-pass bonuses.

An excerpt from the memo the CFLPA sent to its members via email on Tuesday afternoon reads as follows:

“We are working with our legal team to ensure players with report and pass contracts are protected and we will commit that a new deal will not be signed without these contractual obligations being assured. Further communication to the individuals that currently have these addendums in their contracts will be shared by the CFLPA in the near future.”

The CFLPA released a memo to its members last week instructing them not to book travel to training camp unless a new CBA is ratified prior to May 18.

Players with report-and-pass bonuses written into their contracts receive a sum of money when they arrive for training camp and pass their physicals. They are a common feature of veteran CFL contracts.

The league’s highest-paid players tend to have bonuses due in the middle of the off-season — money that is paid out on a predetermined date during the winter. February 1st is a common date for off-season bonuses because it precedes free agency. If a team cuts a player in January to avoid paying his off-season bonus, he has a few weeks to cash-in with another team before pending free agents reach the market.

Report-and-pass bonuses are more commonly found in middle-class veteran contracts.

One source estimated that between fifteen and thirty per cent of CFLPA members have report-and-pass bonuses in their contracts. Many are worth between $10,000 and $25,000 but can be as high as $50,000.

The league has withheld off-season bonuses since November as a negotiating tactic. It appears that the CFLPA assumed report-and-pass bonuses would be treated the same way — withheld initially, but eventually paid upon the ratification of a new CBA.

But multiple sources believe that players will forfeit report-and-pass bonuses should they choose not to report to training camp — and personnel people were well aware of that prior to the CFLPA’s memo encouraging players not to report to camp.

One source indicated the league even added language to contracts following the last round of CBA negotiations in 2014 specifically designed to cancel report-and-pass bonuses in the event of a strike.

That means the CFL has been anticipating this move for five years.

CFLPA player representatives were initially unable to answer questions from its members about report-and-pass bonuses following the release of last week’s memo.

According to multiple sources, the CFLPA’s legal team has spent recent days pouring over contracts to determine if a case could be made for report-and-pass bonuses to be paid out in the event of a strike.

The final answer remains inconclusive. Different teams use different wording in player contracts, which complicates the issue. Still, there are legal experts who feel the league would be within its right not to pay report-and-pass bonuses should players choose not to report for training camp.

I give the CFLPA credit for trying something new: players have never held out of training camp before. Showing up to training camp without a CBA in place hasn’t helped the players’ cause in the past; it’s hard to imagine turning up this time would be any different.

But asking players to vote in favour of a strike on the promise of delivering report-and-pass bonuses is a lot — especially when the CFLPA is already in the late stages of negotiating for a litany of other things.

There’s also the ratio issue to consider. The American-dominated CFLPA is reportedly in favour of reducing the number of mandatory Canadian starters from seven to five, which CFLPA president Brian Ramsay has never formally denied.

Why would a Canadian player — particularly one with a report-and-pass bonus in his contract — go on strike to the potential detriment of national players?

To be clear, I want to see the players make a lot of progress in this round of negotiations. The league has taken advantage of players for too long — they deserve a better deal.

I want players to receive better care for long-term injuries, more guaranteed money in contracts, and higher minimum salaries. They deserve all of those things — and more.

But the CFLPA appears to have been outmaneuvered (again) and is promising players money to which they may have no legal right.

Hold on, folks. We might be in for a bumpy ride.

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