Work Stoppage Averted as Players Union, MLS Agree on New CBA

Two days before the players’ strike deadline, and five days before the Major League Soccer season opener, MLS management and players agreed to a new, five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The new pact comes after marathon negotiation sessions on Thursday and Friday, and was announced this afternoon.

Chief among the players’ issues was the lack of free agency in MLS, and though they weren’t granted that outright, there will now be a new ‘Re-Entry Draft’ for players out of contract at the end of a season.

Most details of the new agreement are still to come, but it was also reported that players would receive a marked increase in compensation, as well as a limited number of guaranteed contracts.

The 2010 season will begin on schedule, with next Thursday’s clash in Seattle between the expansion Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders FC (ESPN2, 9:30 EST).

More Labor News—and It Continues to Be … Not Yet Good

Ives Galarcep is reporting that the MLS Players Union is gearing up for a strike on Monday, three days before the stated deadline of March 25. If this week’s negotiations don’t yield a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to Galarcep’s sources, the players will take to the picket lines following the weekend.

Sigh. We all know how disastrous this would be for the league, on the cusp of its most important season to date, with a new franchise set to begin life in Philadelphia, a dazzling new stadium opening (on Saturday) for the New York franchise, and the World Cup kicking off in June.

But there’s also the question of whether a strike will actually achieve the ends the players want, raised carefully by San Jose Earthquakes investor Lew Wolff in a lengthy, thoughtful, and non-inflammatory statement passed on by Steven Goff at Soccer Insider.

For even more from Galarcep on this issue, click here … and stay tuned.

AEG Boss Leiweke to MLS Players: Strike a Very Bad Idea

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) chief executive Tim Leiweke, who was a prime mover in the deal that brought David Beckham to Major League Soccer and whose company owned six MLS clubs at one point, fired a few shots across the bow of the good ship MLSPU, regarding the threat of a strike come March 25.

Some highlights:

“Here’s our issue, and I’m speaking on behalf of AEG. We have spent to the tune of $300 million on soccer. We have spent money on facilities. We at one point owned six of the 10 teams to keep the league alive.”

“I don’t even know how to react when I hear the players now saying that we have treated them poorly and they’re going to strike.”

“There are only a couple of [MLS] teams that will make money this year…. We do this out of passion. If this were a business, we would have quit 10 years ago.”

No MLS players were quoted in the story with any counterpoints, but if they had been, here are some of the things they might* have said:

“I’ve been in the league for all but one year of its existence. I’m the all-time leader in wins among goalkeepers. When my contract with Kansas City expired and we couldn’t come to terms on a new one, I was held in limbo for weeks because we have no free agency within MLS—meaning no other team could sign me without permission from (read: compensation for) the Wizards. They still owned my rights, even though I was out of contract.”Kevin Hartman, FC Dallas

“I made $34,650 last year, and I was an MLS Best XI selection, and got called up to the U.S. national team, twice.”Geoff Cameron, Houston Dynamo.

“I did my best to anchor the San Jose backline last season (not easy), got a call-up from U.S. coach Bob Bradley for my efforts, and a grand total of $20,100 from the league.”Brandon McDonald, San Jose Earthquakes.

Click here for the latest CBA news from Mr. Goff at The Washington Post.

There are eight days to go until the deadline.

*They did not actually say these things, but the information cited is true.

MLS Players Say They’re Ready to Strike; MLS Brass Says Everything’s Fine

League and union representatives held two meetings in Washington, D.C., this week—with federal mediator George H. Cohen making his MLS debut—and though the two sides released a joint statement afterward saying the negotiations would continue, their subsequent public comments on the process were not exactly in synch.

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff reported this afternoon that players have voted almost unanimously (350 to two) to strike if a new CBA is not hammered out before the season opener on March 25. One veteran player told Goff anonymously, “To be quite blunt, it doesn’t look good at all.”

But a few hours later, the league chimed in with a hearty, “Not to worry!” MLS President Mark Abbott told Goff that the sessions under Cohen’s watch “were productive, and we have scheduled a number of additional meetings.” He further said that the players comments “do not accurately” reflect the positive nature of the negotiations.

The we-said, they-said ring of this is depressingly familiar, but the fact that there are more sessions scheduled is undoubtedly positive: To strike, the players would have to abandon the mediation process, and they have not (yet) done that.

MLS, Players Union to meet with Federal Mediator

Is there a breakthrough in sight for the CBA negotiations between Major League Soccer and the Players Union?

The league has announced that it will meet with union reps next week in Washington, D.C., to try to hammer out an agreement with the help of George H. Cohen, Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Click here for the league announcement, and here for Mr. Cohen’s official bio.

MLS Players to Continue Working—For Now

The Major League Soccer Players Union issued a statement this evening concerning its ongoing labor negotiations with league, saying the current collective bargaining agreement will expire at midnight tonight, but that there will be no strike … yet. Click here for the complete statement.

Major League Soccer responded, saying the Union would not agree to a further extension of the current CBA, but that the league would not lock out the players. Here is that statement

Apparently, there will be further negotiations, though no sessions have been set yet. The league will go forward, and further into limbo, with the season’s opening day four weeks away.

MLS Management, Union, Play Chicken with Looming Work Stoppage

About an hour after Backpost World HQ went dark on Friday with this post about the dearth of news on the MLS CBA talks, members of the MLSPU executive board decided to make some news, taking their grievances to the media in apparent frustration with management’s refusal to budge on the key issues separating the two sides.

Union board member and Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad told Ives Galarcep of and Soccer By Ives, “We feel the league’s not taking us very seriously at all. We’re pretty far apart at this stage. Earlier in January there were some indications that some progress was going to be made, but right now, I think the negotiations are really in a bad place. We’re a long way from getting this deal done.”

This could be part negotiation ploy but, still…yikes. Read the rest of Galarcep’s report here.

Then union board member and Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad spoke to Jeff Carlisle of ESPN, saying, among other things, “We feel like we’ve made a huge effort to be reasonable, to propose things that are within the confines of the single-entity structure. At this point they’re not even humoring us with something tangible. If things stay where they are, then it’s inevitable that a work stoppage is going to happen.”

Carlisle’s report, which quotes players suggesting they’re not much interested in attending the meetings scheduled for this week, with the deadline four days away, can be found here.

Major League Soccer management waited about 24 hours, then league president Mark Abbott responded to Galarcep in surprisingly specific fashion:

“Our proposal isn’t just limited to economics,” Abbott said. “We’ve made a proposal to guarantee a significant number of contracts. We’ve made a proposal to limit the number of options, unilateral options, the league has in player contracts.

“There have been some discussions about what happens to a player whose team no longer wants him and how the right of first refusal works. We’ve made proposals on those areas too, to address some of those concerns.”

So that’s the state of things now, with four days remaining, and it goes without saying that neither side can afford a work stoppage of any kind, be it lockout or strike. They have four days to bridge the gap.