SBD/Issue 112/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLS Work Stoppage Appears Increasingly Likely Ahead Of Deadline

 
With a Thursday deadline looming it appears more likely there could be a work stoppage in MLS. Players remain unhappy with the league's offers to improve their current labor deal, and the two sides will not meet again today, sources said. A spokesperson for the union would not comment and a spokesperson for the league would not immediately comment when asked directly if there was a collective bargaining session scheduled for today that was called off. Representatives of MLS and the MLS Players Union met yesterday in DC, where the union is headquartered, both spokesperson confirmed in e-mails late Monday night. According to one source, there was a potential for a follow-up meeting today, but that meeting will not occur. Another source said, "There is no need for a meeting because there is no move being made by the league toward even limited free agency." The MLS CBA expired on January 31 and the two parties have extended it twice, and have continued to bargain. But sources say that while the league has moved in the direction of the players, there is still a wide gap between what players want and the league is willing to offer. "Honestly, the management has been giving the players nothing, not just for this negotiation, but for the entire duration of the league," said a source close to players. "It has angered the players in the league ... and they have pushed them so far they are about ready not to play."

GIVE & TAKE: A source with knowledge of the negotiations said the league has made compromise proposals to guarantee contracts for a portion of the player pool, and have made a proposal to reduce the number of options in a players contract. Additionally, this source said, "Although not technically ‘free agency’ MLS has made a meaningful proposal to give some players at end of contract greater rights." But sources close to the players say what the league has offered is not enough. "They need to give some real free agency," said one source. "They need to improve on the guarantee and take the age restriction out of the threshold for a guarantee or limit on options. But the key issue is free agency. They need to give us some real free agency and it shouldn't cost them a penny because they can have the hardest salary cap they want." MLS and MLSPU agreed to negotiate through Thursday. MLS players are currently in training camp, and the MLS season is set to begin on March 25. Although it is expected that if there is a work stoppage the players would strike, the league could also lock players out. The reason is tactical, labor experts say. If there is no deal, players could strike at any time, putting the league at a disadvantage (Mullen & Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

PREPARED TO PLAY ON? MLS President Mark Abbott yesterday indicated that the league is "prepared to play the 2010 season under the terms of the existing CBA, the first negotiated by the league and its players." Abbott: "We've communicated that the league doesn't have an intention of commencing a lockout." In N.Y., Jack Bell wrote that "appears to put the pressure on the players," as all 16 MLS clubs currently are "engaged in preseason training." Most labor negotiations are "matters of give and take, but in MLS it is hard to fathom what the players may have to give." The league is "loath to lock out its players because of soccer's relatively high profile in a World Cup year; the debut of a new team, the Philadelphia Union; and the unveiling of a long-awaited new stadium, Red Bull Arena" (NYTIMES.com, 2/22). Dynamo G and MLSPU Exec Board member Pat Onstad: "I'm concerned. I feel that we're not being taken seriously. I think at this point, the negotiations are pretty far apart." Onstad added, "We're fully prepared for a work stoppage. To be honest, our guys have spent the offseason preparing for the possibility" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/23).

Writer Says Garber's Image
"Takes A Hit" From Labor Dispute

BIGGEST LOSERS: SI.com's Andrea Canales wrote the "real losses of the labor dispute have gone unmentioned and unnoticed." Young MLS players are among the "biggest losers" in the dispute, as the MLSPU "has proved to be driven by a certain type of player." Namely, these are "league veterans whose age and level of talent leave them little hope of being pursued by any league other than MLS." Other losers in the dispute include fans of the expansion Union, European MLS fans and MLS Commissioner Don Garber. His image "takes a hit," as "things got to this point under his watch as commissioner" (SI.com, 2/22).

KICK IT UP A NOTCH: The GLOBE & MAIL's Paul James writes if MLS officials are "truly serious about making MLS a competitive league to challenge some of the top leagues around the world, then they really need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk." James: "How is it possible to have professional athletes competing at the national Division One level making less than $30,000? The objective of producing a quality professional league that can compete globally simply does not fit with this absurd factor. ... Now is the time to set a salary cap that is reasonable and fair to both the players and the fans" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/23).

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