CFLPA allowed rookie players to vote to help get new CBA ratified: sources

While the CFL Players’ Association insists that all the “proper protocols” were followed during the recently-held ratification vote on a new collective bargaining agreement, several sources with knowledge of the situation say the union deviated significantly from previous practice by allowing rookie players to vote – including dozens who have yet to play in their first CFL game.

The league and the CFLPA confirmed the new three-year deal with a joint press release on Wednesday, putting an end to a contentious negotiation that was finalized just hours before the start of training camp and after reports that a tentative deal between the two sides had fallen apart.

But the deal still had to be ratified by a vote of the CFL’s board of governors and by the union membership – many of whom expressed their displeasure both publicly and privately with the agreement.

CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay said during a conference call on Wednesday that the deal passed with the support of 74 per cent of union members but also acknowledged that first-year players – including a number who have been in a Canada for less than a week – were allowed to vote on the agreement.

“We ensured that we followed the proper protocols and insured that anyone who was on an active roster under contract had a vote for the ratification of the collective agreement,” Ramsay said. “At this point, that active roster is everyone who is training camp.”

Ramsay said the vote followed the “CFLPA constitution and the provincial labour codes,” but the constitution on the union’s website – last updated in April, 2016 – states that active members are all players on the roster “who sign a C.F.L.P.A. membership card and pay active member C.F.L.P.A. dues.”

Those dues typically aren’t collected in training camp.

Multiple sources said the union’s decision to allow first-year players to vote was a break from previous votes.

“How can they vote when they aren’t paying members?” said a source who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal from the union. “Technically they aren’t part of the union since they haven’t paid dues yet.”

The current training camp rosters are packed with first-year players, the vast majority of whom won’t be with CFL teams when the season starts a few weeks from now. On the Hamilton Tiger-Cats alone, there are 30 players on their roster who have yet to play in a CFL game.

During the season, CFL rosters feature 46 active players, a 10-player practice squad as well as players on the one-game and six-game injured lists.

Sources say there was concern the deal wouldn’t pass if only veterans were permitted to vote. A number of American players, in particular, were upset by an agreement that sees only moderate increases in the salary cap while the ratio of seven starting Canadians remained unchanged.

Including rookie players – the vast majority of whom would have little understanding of the issues and no incentive for a labour disruption that could cost them a precious opportunity in pro football – increased the probability the deal would be approved.

Ramsay, however, denied that the voting procedures had changed.

“The entitled to vote has always been the same practice with the ratification process within the CFLPA,” he said. “Just to be certain, in advance our voting we sought a legal opinion and they provided us with voting requirements under our constitution and various provincial labour laws.”