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Edmonton Eskimos face uncertain start to CFL season as possible strike looms

WATCH ABOVE: The CFLPA says its players won't report to training camp without a new CBA. Kevin Karius has the details.

Training camps across the Canadian Football League are set to open on May 19, but standing in the way is a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the league and its players.

The current CBA is set to expire on May 18, the day when CFL players report to their respective teams. Last month, the CFL Players’ Association stated that if a new deal wasn’t in place by May 18, players would not report to training camp. The union took a strike vote, and 97.3 per cent of players voted in favour of a strike if need be.

READ MORE: CFLPA tells players not to report to CFL training camps without new agreement

This was to ensure that teams would adhere to provincial labour laws in their respective cities, unlike five years ago when the players took a strike vote in the middle of training camp.

The CFL informed the Players’ Association that five cities were, in fact, not in a legal strike position. Those cities are Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.

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On Thursday, Players’ Association executive director Brian Ramsay held a conference call to provide an update on the state of labour negotiations. Ramsay said the union will instruct the Eskimos, Stampeders, Argonauts, Tiger-Cats and Redblacks to report to training camp on time.

READ MORE: Both sides say positive tone starts CFL bargaining talks

The B.C. Lions, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes will be allowed to strike.

“There will be some teams that will have to follow slightly different provincial labour laws,” Ramsay said during the conference call. “We’re trying to get a deal and those four provinces that will be in a legal position, then we will be on strike and they won’t show up for camp.”

He added: “We’re going to ensure our players, if necessary, once they’ve followed the appropriate provincial labour laws, will be on strike in those provinces (Alberta, Ontario) as well.”

Complicating matters further is that Ramsay said by May 23, players in Alberta and Ontario could then be in legal strike position and would be able to walk out.

The Eskimos are scheduled to play their first pre-season game on May 26 on the Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium against the B.C. Lions. If the Eskimos report to camp on time and the Lions don’t, that would likely put that game in jeopardy.

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The Eskimos are scheduled to play their second pre-season game on May 31 on the road against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Having half the league start training camp could be seen as an unfair advantage to other teams, but Ramsay says the effect should be minimal considering all teams could be on strike four days into camp. That would likely put pressure on the entire CFL pre-season schedule.

The CFL has had only one work stoppage in its history back in 1974. The stoppage lasted for three weeks, as a deal was struck just before the start of the regular season.

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When reached for comment on the matter of the May 26 pre-season game in Edmonton, the CFL said: “We are currently in negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. We are working towards reaching a deal that is fair to our players and our clubs. Out of respect for this process and our desire to reach this important goal, we will not comment further on the talks, nor will we speculate on their outcome or the future.”

The league and its players are scheduled to meet again from May 13 to 15. Ramsay says the goal of the players is to find common ground and reach an agreement but admitted the two sides are not “necessarily where we need to be right now.”

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What is known is that the Edmonton Eskimos will be one of five teams reporting to training camp on May 19 — anything beyond that date is a mystery.

– With files from The Canadian Press