With Lockout in Sight, Union Still Does Not Have Full Support
With only hours to go until the AFL could track into a territory that it has not seen in its 25 year history, Saturday night’s games have kicked off.
At this time, Ivan Soto and James Baron from the Player’s Union are in Chicago meeting with Commissioner Jerry Kurz and four of the owners from the Arena Football League.
According to reports, the league has threatened to lock out all of the players if a deal is not reached by 5:00pm central time on Sunday afternoon.
“At 4pm (Central Time) I spoke with James Baron,” said Chicago Rush Player Representative Reggie Gray. “He said that they are still in negotiations and that it is going good. I have not spoken to him again since then, but I am assuming that they are staying there until they get a deal done.”
At the core of the discussions are the salaries of the players, who are currently making $400 per game and arbitration for player fines and penalties.
A proposal was offered to the Player’s Union by the league earlier in the week and the Union countered the offer a couple of days ago leading to the face to face negotiations this weekend. The Union had threatened to have teams randomly strike if a deal was not done.
“It’s up to the Players Association and the Arena Football League.,” said Chicago Rush head coach Bob McMillen. “The League gave them a proposal and pretty much gave them everything that they wanted, but we have to be prepared either way.”
If the players are indeed locked out by the league and the owners, teams will be prepared to finish the remainder of the season, or until a deal is struck, with replacement players.
“We have guys ready to come in next week,” McMillen said. “There are good football players ready to go. These are not just guys off of the street. There are guys that have played legitimately in college and guys with some professional experience. Scott Bailey, our personnel guy, does a great job with that. All year long, he keeps a list like that just in case a situation like this happens. We are prepared and I am sure that we are probably more prepared than a lot of the other teams out there.”
With the negotiations going on, nobody from the league office is present at the Rush game this evening for comment.
With the players wanting to play and not having all of the players supporting the Union, it is difficult to see a deal not getting done this weekend.
“I know that our guys don’t want (to be locked out),” said McMillen. “I have had guys come up to me and ask ‘how can I get out of this’. I have had to tell them that unfortunately they can’t.”
He continued, “It’s unfortunate that from some of the things that I have seen, things that I have heard, and from some of the people that I have spoken with, the players have really not had a say in any of this. It’s these guys that are running the show for them. I know James Baron and I have played with James Baron, and I know that he is trying to do the best for the players, but it is a different league than it was back then and I don’t think that he sees that.”
“We want to play,” said Gray. “Whatever is going to happen we want to get it done. None of the guys want to stop playing. Most, if not all, of the teams support the union. They may not agree with everything that is being done, but we want them to do what is best for our interest.”
“I know the Arena Football League is doing everything that they can,” said McMillen. “The owners have been very supportive and are trying to do as much as they can for these players without getting out of the model that is in place. If they get out of it, the league is not going to last very long. They are trying to be smart and do the right thing.”
Ultimately, the fate of the Arena Football League and its players is in the hands of the Players Union and the owners and Commissioner of the league. The good news is that everyone at the coaching and player levels in Chicago on Saturday night believe that a deal will get done and the season will continue with its current rostered players.
“We are definitely looking forward to playing next week,” Gray said. “I am optimistic that a deal will get done and we will be playing next week.”
"There is no way that they are going to come out of this weekend without a deal,” said Rush jack linebacker Kelvin Morris. “I know Jerry Kurz has a plan. The league cannot afford not to.”