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Volume 22 No. 19
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MLS’s financial data at issue as CBA negotiations kick off

Major League Soccer and its players union have begun to meet about a new labor deal, and the league has agreed to share financial information with the union.

The current MLS collective-bargaining agreement — the first one ever negotiated — expires Jan. 31.

“We recently opened negotiations with the MLS Players Union and had an initial meeting in April,” said Todd Durbin, MLS executive vice president. “Our discussions are ongoing and we are currently scheduling our next meeting.”

A player-side source said earlier this month that the league had resisted providing the union with full financial disclosure and that until such disclosure occurred, negotiations would be at a stalemate.

Players said they faced
resistance getting the
league to disclose
its finances.

But league officials said last week that there was no stalemate.

“We are sharing financial information with the MLSPU, and any reports to the contrary are incorrect,” Durbin said in a written statement.

It is not entirely clear, however, whether the league is giving the union full access to its financials or whether it is providing financial information in order to plead financial hardship. If that is the case, the league could be seeking major concessions from the union, labor experts said.

Bill Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, said that when sports leagues give up financial information to a union, it is usually because the league is saying it can’t afford to pay employees and the union is asking for proof. “You claim inability to pay,” Gould said of management. “You claim poverty.”

When a privately held concern, such as MLS, agrees to share financial information, Gould said, “usually it arises out of a situation where the union is saying, ‘Back it up.’”

Neither the league nor the union would talk about which issues could be sticking points in the negotiations, or about any to do with the positions of either side in the talks.

The MLS Players Union’s general counsel, Jon Newman, said, “We have begun collective bargaining. We have a bargaining committee. We are not commenting on any specifics at this time.” 

Newman would not comment further.

Meetings are expected again in the next few weeks. They are alternating  between the league’s headquarters in New York and the union’s offices in Washington, D.C.

The league is being represented in negotiations by President Mark Abbott, Commissioner Don Garber and outside counsel Bob Batterman of legal firm Proskauer Rose. The union is being represented by Newman, Executive Director Bob Foose and director of player relations Eddie Pope. MLS players are also said to be part of the team for the union.