BREAKING NEWS: Cleveland Gladiators Forfeit vs. Pittsburgh Power (As Of 6/8, 7:55 ET)
For the second time this season, the Arena Football League Players Union (AFLPU) has called for a strike. In the first instance, the Orlando Predators and the Pittsburgh Power both went on strike in Week 1. The game went on as planned, but the end result was an ugly 40-26 victory for Pittsburgh. For the second time, the Power now have a win over a team in a game involved in a strike situation. This time, it was the Cleveland Gladiators, who officially forfeited to the Power for an inability to field enough players for this game.
Cleveland dropped to 6-6 on the season, and it put the Philadelphia Soul within a combination of three wins and Cleveland losses of clinching the Eastern Division crown. Pittsburgh improved to 3-9 and is at least somewhat back in consideration for the postseason in the American Conference.
AFLPU Executive Director Ivan Soto e-mailed ArenaFan at 2:30 p.m. (ET) this afternoon, stating, "The Gladiators are on work stoppage until midnight tonight." AFLPU Executive Vice President, Steve Watson confirmed to ArenaFan, "From all indication, we have 100% participation from the Gladiators." The "100% participation" number was clearly not quite the case. Sources have told ArenaFan.com that QB John Dutton was indeed in the building at the Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night, and he was prepared to play the game.
Earlier in the day, it sounded like rescheduling the game was a possibility, but instead, the only option was a forfeit. When the Gladiators' officials elected not to hire replacement players for the game, it was basically set in stone that the game would not be played. Reports from Dennis Manoloff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer stated that there was a chance for the game to take place up until the last minute, as the brass in Cleveland scrambled to try to get their players to play. Sources confirmed to ArenaFan.com that there were at least five players on the regular Gladiators roster that were prepared to play, but that there were not enough players to field a team to take on the Power.
It was been business as usual for the Power, who came out on the field and warmed up as if they were going to play. The AFLPU has not officially called the strike off at this point, and sources have told ArenaFan that they are, "not optimistic" that anything is going to get done in terms of an agreement between the players and the league.
Negotiations between the AFL and the AFLPU are still reportedly happening as of 8:00 p.m., but the negotiations that are taking place are doing so via phone calls and e-mails, not face to face conversations. The legal team for the AFLPU, along with AFLPU Executive President James Baron and Soto are in Cleveland, while we expect that Commissioner Kurz is in Milwaukee. Watson told ArenaFan at 6:00 p.m. "Nothing new. League still rejects interim deal."
The issues at hand have to do both with money and with off the field issues. Before the regular season started in Week 1, the AFLPU was searching for as much as $1,350 per week for their players. They have since cut their number down to just $600 per week, less than half of their original offer. The owners have offered $500 per week and have reportedly not budged from that number during the entire process. Watson said that the league was, "unwilling to cooperate" with the AFLPU.
In terms of off the field issues, the big matter at hand is the right to arbitration. Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz has the authority at this point to hand out fines as he deems fit, and players are often fined as much as $25 or $50, a whopping 12.5% of their paychecks, for anything from throwing a football in the stands in celebration to not wearing their socks at the proper height. The players have no right to appeal fines, and the fines are merely deducted from their game checks. Players are also looking to get travel expenses taken care of when they are traded. As of right now, a player has to pay his own way to his new city should he be traded.
As of this hour the Gladiators were the only team that decided to strike. Both Watson and Soto confirmed that the Power were not been asked to join their union players in Cleveland. Watson told ArenaFan, "Should Cleveland field a replacement team, we expect Pittsburgh to play. We have told Pittsburgh to play."
Both Arena Football One, LLC and the AFLPU have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against one another several times over the course of this season. The players that are on strike are doing so under the laws of Unfair Labor Practices, which guarantees their jobs and back pay should the strike go for any period of time.
As of this hour, the San Jose SaberCats vs. Orlando Predators is expected to go on as originally scheduled, and the rest of the Week 14 slate around the AFL should be unaffected. However, as Watson eerily warned, "There would be continued labor unrest until a deal is done."
The Mustangs and Soul kicked off at 8:00 p.m. (ET), but the game was not televised on the NFL Network. The AFL issued a press release in the 6 o'clock hour stating that the game would not be televised nationally. The game is available on UStream, and it is being shown on Comcast Sports Net in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia/Milwaukee game was only flexed into play on Thursday, replacing the Pittsburgh/Cleveland telecast. At that point, Commissioner Kurz stated that the game between the Soul and the Mustangs was the "best of the week," but clearly at this point, it was an attempt to move the NFL Network broadcast away from the possible labor unrest.
In the league's press release, Kurz made it sound as if the decision to take the game off the air was a product of the NFL Network and not a decision of the AFL. He said, "This is unfortunate, but we understand the decision being made by the NFL Network. The public negotiation tactics of some have put a large number of people in a difficult situation. We will continue to work at reaching an agreement with our players and hope that those involved in the talks will proceed in a more constructive way."
The Gladiators, who forfeited the first AFL game in league history, released the following statement after the game...
"The Gladiators care deeply about our fans and are doing everything in our control to play games and continue competing for wins on the field. That will always be our top priority and focus. Unfortunately, the players decided to withhold their services so that tonight’s game was not possible to be played. The League is focusing all of their efforts to resolve the labor situation with the players and we know the collective goal is a deal that is fair for both the players and the teams, while also being good for the game and our fans."
Tickets that were purchased to the game will be refunded. Tickets for Friday night's game can also be redeemed for a free ticket to any of the last three regular season home games of the year for the Gladiators.
ArenaFan attempted to reach out to the Gladiators, the AFL, and the NFL Network for this story, but as of this hour, has not gotten any comments. Stay tuned to ArenaFan for any further developments as the night progresses.