- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
The Major League Soccer Players Association and MLS announced on Friday that they have reached a tentative agreement on a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The CBA was approved by the union’s executive board and bargaining committee by a vote of 24-11, according to a source. The agreement will now be sent to the full players’ union membership for a vote, which could be held as soon as Saturday. A simple majority is all that’s needed to ratify the agreement.
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The agreement would then need to be approved by the league’s board of governors. That is expected to take place and would clear the way for the opening of training camps on Feb. 22, and the start of the MLS season on April 3. It also avoids a termination of the CBA and a lockout of the players, which had been threatened by MLS if a deal couldn’t be reached.
MLS announced that the proposal on the table would extend the CBA by two years through 2027, a clause that the league had fought for ever since the start of negotiations, and had been a sticking point in the talks.
The extension has the effect of delaying the jump in compensation that typically comes with a new CBA. More importantly, such an extension provides the league with considerable distance from the 2026 World Cup — co-hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico — and takes away leverage from the MLSPA to negotiate improved terms in the run-up to the tournament and the years that follow.
Sources tell ESPN that among the player benefits contained in the proposal are no cuts to salaries in 2021, along with improved free agency terms in 2026 and 2027, in which players 24 years of age and with four years of service would qualify. The old deal required five years of service.
The players would also receive a 10 percent across the board salary increase in 2027 and improved salaries for players classified as senior minimum. In terms of the revenue sharing deal for the next media rights contract, the players will get a percentage of the difference between the new deal (plus $100 million). In 2023 and 2024 that percentage will be 12.5 percent (a decrease in 2024 of 12.5 percent) and from 2025-27 that percentage will be 25 percent.
Negotiations on the revised CBA were reopened after MLS invoked a force majeure clause on Dec. 29 due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the slower than anticipated rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, MLS feels it is looking at another year with little or no fans in the stands. Given its reliance on gameday revenues, MLS feels its finances will be severely impacted, and feels the players should bear some of the sacrifices.
The union had countered that MLS’s approach wasn’t done out of financial necessity but rather financial opportunism. The MLSPA made $150m in concessions over the life of the deal when it signed the previous CBA last June.
The invoking of the force majeure clause opened up a 30-day window for the two sides to negotiate a revised CBA. Because an agreement wasn’t reached within that window, either side could’ve terminated the CBA. But MLS was the only side that threatened such a maneuver, stating that if a deal wasn’t agreed upon, it would not only terminate the CBA, but lock out the players as well.
The threat of a work stoppage gave the league increased leverage, and MLS used it to good effect, extracting the main concessions that it sought at the beginning of the talks.
This marks the third time in the last year that the two sides have been negotiated a CBA. The two sides reached an agreement in principle last February, but neither side formally ratified the deal. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, MLS reopened negotiations, with the two sides agreeing on a revised deal last June. In that deal, the league succeeded in getting the aforementioned force majeure clause inserted.
Sources tell ESPN that the force majeure won’t be in force through Dec. 1, 2021, but can be invoked after that time.
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