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CFL's rejection of latest offer moves players closer to strike, union says

TORONTO - The CFL is one step closer to a work stoppage after the league rejected the union's most recent offer, the president of the CFL Players' Association said Tuesday.

"I think we are," Scott Flory said in a phone interview. "I think it's safe to say we are."

The players tabled a new offer on Monday that called for a shorter term and included concessions on the salary cap and the amount of revenue that would trigger the renegotiation of the deal.

The two sides haven't met face-to-face since Thursday and no new talks are scheduled.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said he hopes the players don't go on strike but that the next move is theirs.

"We understand they're very serious but we want to see football," he said.

The previous collective bargaining agreement expired Thursday night.

Training camps still opened as scheduled Sunday, but Flory said the CFL's latest contract rejection strengthens the players' resolve.

"All the indications I'm getting from players is they're prepared to get the attention to what's going on out there," Flory said. "Our guys are insulted and upset by what's going on."

Veteran kicker Paul McCallum, the B.C. Lions' union rep, said the players are "the ones coming up with the ideas."

"They basically said, 'This is what it's going to be and that's it,'" he said. "We're trying to say 'That's not going to work. Can we talk and discuss something else?' We're just being told no, kind of like a young child being schooled. That's how the players feel right now."

The earliest players could strike en masse is Tuesday due to Alberta labour laws. That means Monday night's exhibition game between Toronto and Winnipeg would go ahead, but a work stoppage would jeopardize games scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

A lengthy strike could delay the scheduled June 26 start of the regular season, which McCallum said would be unfortunate given Ottawa's return to the CFL in 2014.

"History has shown we've worked with the league in trying to make it work for everybody," McCallum said. "If the league is in financial despair then we're going to do what we can to make that work and make everything better.

"Now that there's a lot of money from TV, they just want to take their ball and run with it. It's unfortunate."

There has been one strike since the formation of the CFLPA in 1965. Three weeks of training camp were lost in 1974 before a new agreement was reached and no regular-season games were affected.

The union's latest offer, which was tabled by an arbitrator, was for four years, instead of five, and called for a $5.2-million cap, down from $5.8 million. The $4.8-million minimum remained the same.

The cap would increase to $5.6 million in 2015, then $200,000 annually over of the final two years. The minimum salary would go up $5,000 to $50,000 this year, then $1,000 annually.

The union amended its condition to trigger the renegotiation of the cap or the entire collective agreement. Their original offer called for the cap or entire agreement to be renegotiated if gross revenues increased by over $12 million — excluding the Grey Cup — in the third year of the deal.

On Monday, the union boosted that figure to $18 million.

Last week, the CFL tabled its "best and final offer," that included a $5-million salary cap (up from $4.8 million initially) and increased the average salary to $96,000 (up from $92,917). It also called for ratification bonuses of $5,000 for veterans and $1,500 for rookies.

The CFL also set its gross revenue figure at $27 million.

The players had wanted $15,000 ratification bonuses for veterans but reduced that to $8,500 while agreeing to $1,500 for rookies.

The CFL gave players until Monday to accept their latest proposal and be eligible for their ratification bonuses. On Tuesday, the league extended that deadline to Friday although Cohon called the CFLPA's latest offer "unrealistic."

"I think we were crystal clear with the Players' Association before that what we put in front of them was our best offer," he said. "It takes into affect where the league is today, where we're trying to get to and we don't want to go backwards.

"If they want to re-arrange elements of the deal, re-arrange the deck chairs in that deal, we're happy to talk to them about it. But it (CFL offer) has to be the focal point of discussions. That's why we've said, 'Take it to the players and let them vote on it.' "

Flory said the players won't accept it.

"The executive and player reps are united," he said. "We are not prepared to recommend their latest proposal to our members and our members would not accept."

Flory said the league shouldn't expect another proposal from the union anytime soon.

"This is the second time we've tried to go back and open up discussions, communications and negotiations and been soundly rejected," he said. "I don't know where things stand now."

While the league's economic picture has improved in recent years, Cohon said sound business decisions are needed to ensure continued growth.

"Everyone, collectively, has worked so hard the last five years to improve this league," Cohon said. "We've made great strides but still have a ways to go."

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