SBD/Issue 124/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLSPU Prepared To Strike Without Greater Rights From League

Sources Say Players Are Ready To
Strike Ahead Of Start Of MLS Season

MLS and the MLS Players Union yesterday issued a statement saying that they plan to continue collective bargaining, but sources say the union has prepared players to strike the first week of the season if the league is unwilling to give players greater rights. MLS and MLSPU officials yesterday met in DC for the second time this week. The meetings, which were the first between the parties since February 22, were attended by mediator George Cohen, Dir of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service. It is not clear if there is progress being made in the talks to avert a players strike. In a joint statement afterward, the union and league said, "MLS and the Players Union have agreed to continue collective bargaining agreement discussions with the FMCS." Sources close to the union said players -- who are seeking greater rights, including free agency -- have taken secret ballot votes about whether or not they should strike. The sources added that if the league and union do not achieve resolution in the next two weeks, players have plans to strike prior to the first game of the season on March 25. A strike is not expected to happen until near the start of the season for tactical reasons. Buzz Hargrove, former head of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, said he did not know any specifics of the MLSPU's strategy but said from a tactical standpoint striking the day of the season opener or just prior would make sense for the players union. "Your maximum advantage is prior to the season opener date," Hargrove said. "The pressure is on the owners to get the game going and get fans in the seats. If I were advising the union, my ideal (time to call a strike) would be the season opener" (Mickle & Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

PREPARING TO STRIKE? Toronto FC D Nick Garcia told the CBC yesterday that he expects the players to strike if a new CBA is not achieved before the start of the regular season. He added that the union is united and that beginning the season under the existing CBA, as MLS Commissioner Don Garber has proposed, is not an option. It was not clear if Garcia's comments represent a player speaking out on his own accord or as part of an organized union message. However, the league and union issued the joint statement shortly after the CBC posted the Garcia story (Mickle & Mullen). Garcia, one of TFC's two player reps, yesterday said, "We're anticipating not having the season starting (on time). As of now, for us, we're very far apart -- even with the mediator there in DC. We're hoping things can get done, but quite frankly I don't think we're confident things will." Garcia said starting this season under terms of the old CBA is the "one thing we are not going" to do (, 3/10).

TIME FOR A HISTORY LESSON: Washington Post reporter Steve Goff said MLS "does not have a foundation in this country like the NBA, baseball, and football, and even hockey, and we saw the impact that the work stoppage had on hockey a few years ago." Goff: "It took them years to come back, and that is a league with decades of history and tradition. So it would be a major setback to the sport in this country if there was a lengthy work stoppage" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 3/10). Meanwhile, in Boston, Frank Dell'Apa notes those who "experienced the work stoppage in the North American Soccer League in 1979 are wondering whether both sides are familiar with the history of labor problems in professional soccer." Boston attorney Steve Gans: "Following the NASL’s two most successful seasons, the players struck. In 1977 and ’78, NASL teams had a lot of success and were getting TV contracts. The league had momentum. ... Of all the things that led to the NASL’s demise, that (strike) was one of the top five things. Not enough people cared about it to keep the momentum going. The critical mass wasn’t there; there weren’t enough roots set down" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/11).

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