On the brink of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament beginning on Wednesday, the U.S. women’s national soccer team finds themselves in a legal battle with U.S. Soccer. U.S. Soccer is suing to assert the existence of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The most recent CBA expired in 2012, U.S. Soccer contends a subsequent agreement reached in 2013 is the new CBA. However, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association believes that the 2013 agreement was merely a memorandum of understanding that allows them to exit the agreement with proper notice. In essence, this is a dispute over whether the two parties have a valid CBA or not.
This whole thing started when counsel for the national team filed proper notice to allow the team to exit. The notice states the national team will walk away from the agreement on February 24th. They also advised U.S. Soccer officials last week that the organization will not rule out a strike. U.S. Soccer responded by filing suit in the Northern District of Illinois to enforce the pact as a CBA.
A collective bargaining agreement sets down and defines conditions of employment (wages, working hours and conditions, overtime payments, holidays, vacations, benefits, etc.) and procedures for dispute resolution. The law of collective bargaining encompasses four basic points:
- The employer may not refuse to bargain over certain subjects with the employees’ representative, provided that the employees’ representative has majority support in the bargaining unit.
- Those certain subjects, called mandatory subjects of bargaining, include wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.
- The employer and the union are not required to reach an agreement, but must bargain in good faith over mandatory subjects of bargaining.
- While a valid collective bargaining agreement is in effect, and while the parties are bargaining but have not yet reached an impasse, the employer may not unilaterally change a term of employment that is a mandatory subject of bargaining.
Many players on the national team have voiced concern over gender equity in the sport, something that came to light in advance of last year’s World Cup in Canada. Tensions have been rising about the extreme pay discrepancy between the men’s and women’s national teams. Also, about whether or not U.S. Soccer is sufficiently protecting the athletes’ health and longevity. Turf is one issue. The women are asked to play on turf, which some experts say causes injuries. The men have not played on turf since 2014. These are some of the issues players hope to address within a new collective bargaining agreement.
Should the court rule in favor of the players’ association, the team will be able to engage in labor actions, such as strikes, while they negotiate a new CBA. If not, than everything will likely be status quo under the old memorandum until it expires as scheduled.