B.C. Lions’ CFLPA rep David Mackie blames initial CBA rejection on misunderstandings, lack of voter turnout

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

CFL fans have grown accustomed to chaos and anxiety over the last few years, but the past few weeks have been another animal entirely.

The colossal game of chicken played by the league and its Players’ Association over the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement had more drama than any contest on the field in 2021, resulting in the CFL’s first strike in 48 years and an eleventh-hour deal on Thursday. 

The last bit of unneeded excitement came after players’ voted down a previously negotiated tentative agreement on Monday, putting the league’s preseason schedule in jeopardy. Speculation on the motivation for that surprising decision by the majority of players centred on concerns over proposed ratio changes and the absence of a ratification bonus, but B.C. Lions fullback David Mackie believes the added strife stemmed from another reason entirely.

“I don’t think the entire membership — not that it was anyone’s fault — thoroughly understood [the deal],” the team’s CFLPA representative told media Friday.

“I feel that a lot of guys when we went on strike didn’t understand what bargaining takes and that bargaining is a tough thing. I always joke that when you bargain, both sides aren’t popping bottles at the end of it excited with an agreement. It’s give and take, and I think it just took some guys a little extra time to digest come the second time around.”

The misunderstanding was also a key factor in the dissent of Canadian players on the proposed ratio changes. Players voted down a deal that would have seen three veteran Americans — defined as anyone with three years of service on their team or five in the league — be able to substitute for a Canadian starter for up to 49 percent of plays in a game beginning in 2023, only to accept one that allows for two players to do the same thing with a possible increase to three in 2024.

Mackie, who railed against the CFL last week for their apparent desire to reduce Canadian content, believes players didn’t realize that compromise, proposed by the CFLPA themselves, actually protected their jobs.

“Nothing changes. We still protected that number seven, so the same amount of Canadian starters still have an opportunity to fight for their starting role and if they’re the better player on the field, then they can play more than 51 percent of snaps,” he noted. “It’ll put some pressure on those guys, but at the end of the day, it’ll just drive performance out of those seven starters.”

Also unclear to players was the fact that those naturalized American veterans will not count towards the roster ratio overall, meaning they aren’t bumping Canadians on the bubble out of a job.

“I know [CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian] and [executive director Brian Ramsay] were flying all over this country making sure guys understood the full extent of that, but maybe it just took some guys a little bit more time to digest,” Mackie said. “To understand that we protected seven starters and 21 Canadians on every roster was pretty big.”

Had those points been driven home, the initial agreement might have passed, though Mackie notes that a number of veteran players were equally dissatisfied with the lack of a ratification bonus. Those who won’t be around to profit from all seven years of the agreement were swayed by the $1.225 million the league put on the table to be distributed directly to players right now, but even they were far outnumbered by the group of players who simply didn’t cast a ballot on the first tentative agreement.

Mackie confirmed reports that roughly 30 percent of eligible players — rookies were excluded — did not vote on the rejected deal, swinging the margin of victory towards those vocally opposed. That changed when facing a drop-dead date on Thursday.

“I think it was important to make sure that we had the entire membership vote,” Mackie said. “Why that didn’t take place the first time, I’m not sure. Part of that falls on us as reps and our communication to the locker room, but I think we definitely made sure that everyone that was eligible to vote voted [this time].”

While he feels the poor turnout on the first ballot means it wasn’t an accurate reflection of player sentiments, he credits members of the CFLPA bargaining committee for going back to the league on behalf of the no-voters and getting something done.

“It wasn’t a total radical change, but I appreciate our bargaining committee for standing with the vote that got turned down,” Mackie praised. “They went back to the table and got something.”

While the new collective bargaining agreement still requires a formal rubber stamp from the CFL’s Board of Governors to go into effect, the league and its players can finally proceed as normal with the season. While it isn’t exactly the true partnership that both sides like to cite, Mackie thinks this deal is closer than ever before, with major advances like a player seat on the board of CFL Ventures, the league’s commercial arm, going mostly unheralded.

“The fact that we get a voice in a room with the league to make sure that we understand the full extent of what they’re trying to do to grow this league financially, whether it’s in this country or in other streams, I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction,” he stressed.

Fans simply wish it was a step that could have happened a little sooner.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and youth football coach. He covers the CFL, the CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.