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Free agency among MLS union’s proposals

As other big leagues seek concessions from players, the Major League Soccer Players Union has proposed significant increases in its members’ rights, including free agency and leaguewide guaranteed contracts, sources said.

Free agency, part of the proposal presented at a collective-bargaining session with the league in New York last month, would fundamentally change the way the MLS is operated. Players want the right to have multiple teams bid for their services, but the league now operates as a single entity and negotiates all player contracts.

Guaranteed contracts exist under the current MLS CBA, but some deals aren’t guaranteed and others are “semi-guaranteed,” meaning the contract becomes guaranteed once a player continues to play to a certain point in the season.

Asked whether players were seeking free agency and guaranteed salaries, MLSPU attorney Jon Newman said, “I am not going to discuss what occurred at the collective- bargaining table.”

It is unclear whether MLS club owners, who have what is considered the most owner-friendly deal among the big leagues, would be willing to make concessions, especially since only a very small fraction of the 15 MLS clubs are thought to be profitable.

But one soccer source said there is no way the league would agree to guaranteed contracts or give up its  single-entity structure. Sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about negotiations.

The real issue that players are pushing for, soccer sources said, is the guaranteed contracts.

It’s not known whether the MLSPU members are willing to fight for those rights, which professional athletes in most other leagues already enjoy. Players tried to get free agency rights in 2004, when they agreed to the first CBA with the MLS, MLSPU Executive Director Bob Foose said then. The league would not move on the issue, and players did not strike over it.

Foose said last week that he would not comment on the current negotiations

The CBA expires Jan. 31, at which time the players could strike or the owners could lock them out if there is no deal. The two sides also could agree to continue to negotiate, but typically employers do not like to continue operations when employees have the leverage of being able to strike at any time.

The real deadline for getting a deal done may be when training camps open; that date has not yet been released. MLS and MLSPU officials began bargaining for a new CBA in April.

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