WINNIPEG – CFL players will be foes on the football field this season but off of it they plan to fight together for a better future.
The players are heading into the last year of their collective bargaining agreement with the CFL amid contentious issues that could affect their bank accounts and bodies.
“Before we can talk to the owners, we have to solidify our position and bring a unification among the players’ association,” B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian said Friday. “That’s the biggest thing because we all know a house divided cannot stand.”
The eight-year veteran became a CFL Players’ Association player rep for the Lions last season for the first time in his career. This year, the four-time all-star and 2014 CFL outstanding player is on the union executive as second vice-president.
“I felt like it was important to make sure I was on (the executive) because I want to represent the guys,” said the Nigerian-born athlete, who had a league-record 144 tackles last season. “I want the CFL in a better place than when I got here, just like the guys who came before me.
“I want to make sure the voice of the locker-room is being heard on the executive and that’s done by current players.”
Elimimian is one of more than 50 players gathered attending the second annual CFL Week of fan-focused activities.
He said players are already talking about issues that are important to them and the union is striving to improve communication with its members.
Some topics were recently amplified after the CFLPA filed a grievance against the league Wednesday related to player safety and rehabilitation.
The claim alleges the league and its clubs “have chosen not to act on their obligation to care for CFL players who sustain long-term injuries on the field, despite their responsibility to do so.”
The move came less than a week after the Supreme Court of Canada decided against hearing former player Arland Bruce III’s concussion lawsuit against the league and former commissioner Mark Cohon.
“If you get hurt on the job, why shouldn’t an employer pay for that and extend that coverage for an injury that happened on the job?” Elimimian said. “Maybe that’s a little too common sense, but that’s fair and that’s something that has guys united and that’s something that we really want to take a look at for the CBA.”
Players are also concerned about a 2017 league directive that teams not pay players’ off-season bonuses in 2019 until a new agreement is ratified. The current deal expires May 15, 2019.
“I don’t think it’s fair, but that’s what they want to do,” said Elimimian, who recently signed a contract extension with B.C. through the 2019 season. “That’s something we’re talking about right now.”
Players are being given some advice on how to handle that.
“Make sure you save your money for 2019 for the off-season,” Elimimian said.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie explained the reasoning behind the directive that was issued before he took the job last July.
“It was a decision made in the spirit of making sure everyone was motivated to get to the table and get a new CBA done,” he said. “If they were all sitting on a nest egg and they could afford to sit out for a period of time.
“We didn’t want to be putting the players in a situation where they’d say, ‘Let’s not play for a while,’ because we think playing is critical to the future of the league.”
Elimimian said no one wants a work stoppage.
“So it’s imperative both sides engage in fair negotiations to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Ambrosie said he gathered with CFLPA president Jeff Keeping and executive director Brian Ramsay on Thursday as part of their monthly meetings.
The talk included the union’s grievance, player safety and health and fan feedback about moving up the start of the regular season.
“I don’t think anyone should deny that we have some challenges we have to overcome, but it’s always better to get that fog to lift and to look at them not as adversaries, but to look at them as partners,” Ambrosie said.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Weston Dressler believes players are more prepared for negotiations this time around.
“I think our player reps have the experience of a few years ago of going through that, and seeing how it all went down and things we thought maybe we missed out on or gave too much or didn’t get enough,” the 10-year veteran said.
“At the end of the day, you still have to give a little and take a little. “It’s finding that balance.”
Dressler recalled last year’s Labour Day game when Winnipeg and Saskatchewan Roughriders players shook hands after the national anthem.
“That was for this purpose, to show our unity and that we’re going to stick together in this one,” he said.