MLS, Players’ Union Reach New Collective Bargaining Agreement
By Michelle Martin
Despite now boasting 16 Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs and soccer-specific stadiums to support 10 of those clubs, professional soccer in the United States was at risk of being sidelined for the 2010 season. Players and management began discussions on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in February, and the two sides announced on March 20 that they had agreed in principle to a new CBA to begin the 2010 season on March 25 as originally scheduled.
“This new agreement allows us to work with our players to continue our mutual efforts to build the sport of soccer in North America,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
“We worked hard during the past few months to develop a new agreement that addressed many of the players most important issues and look forward to a meaningful and productive new relationship over the next five years.”
“The union is happy with this agreement as it addresses the core issue of players’ rights and we look forward to working cooperatively with the League going foward,” said Bob Foose, executive director of the Players Union. The new CBA runs five seasons, beginning with the 2010 season and continuing through Dec. 31, 2014.
The initial CBA, signed in 2004 to run through the 2009 season, expired Jan. 31 but was extended twice while negotiations continued between MLS and the MLS Players Union. The Players’ Union was formed in April 2003 to “promote the best interests of all MLS players and serve as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for all current players in Major League Soccer,” according to the organization‘s website, MLSPlayers.org.
On Feb. 25, after the Players’ Union refused another extension, MLS offered to begin the 2010 season under the original CBA and to continue discussions toward a new CBA. “We have listened to the issues raised by the MLS Players Union and the League has made detailed proposals that have addressed these issues–including in the areas of economics, guaranteed contracts, options and the ability of a player to move to another MLS club if he is released by his current club,” read an MLS statement on MLSNet.com. “These proposals, which represent substantial changes from the current CBA, will significantly increase our spending and provide substantially more rights to the players.” In addition, MLS delayed the roster compliance date, originally scheduled for March 1, while discussions continued with the Players Union. The two sides met March 9-10 in Washington, D.C., to continue CBA negotiations mediated by George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. No agreement was reached in the mediation.
“Recent comments from players simply reflect the fact that the players are unified and, per the results of our strike vote, will not begin the new season if a new agreement with the league is not reached,” Foose said in a statement released March 11. Details of the strike authorization vote were not disclosed.
Lew Wolff, owner of the San Jose (Calif.) Earthquakes MLS club, issued a statement expressing his concerns about a strike. “MLS is still a young league that is not fully established yet. To lose the benefits that have been gained to date and to risk league stability is, in my opinion, a risk that the players and their unions need to fully consider,” he said. “I am very confident that any stoppage will do more harm to all parties, especially the players, than any perceived benefits of a strike. A strike will not, in my estimation, be the best way to achieve whatever is desired.”
The new CBA reached in principle on March 20 is subject to the approval of the MLS Board of Governors and the membership of the Players’ Union. MLS kicked off its 15th season on schedule March 25 as the Seattle Sounders FC defeated the Philadelphia Union expansion team 2-0 in its inaugural game.