MLS, Players Union Agree To Mediation

On Friday afternoon, Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union announced that they will meet next week in Washington D.C. to resume labor negociations.

And they’ve accepted an offer of mediation from George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

What’s this mean?

Since I didn’t read the words “binding arbitration” anywhere, it basically means that someone else will get to hear the league wax poetic about keeping its costs in line while the union speaks wistfully about things like freedom and fairness.

Or Mr. Cohen could read the sides sniping away at each other in the newspaper.

MLS president Don Garber is confident that the season will go ahead as scheduled, and accepting mediation is at least a token step in the right direction.

One thing worries me, though.

The union will NEVER have more leverage in these discussions than they have right now.

The World Cup, and the casual interest it may bring to the league, is the pink elephant in whatever room these meetings will be held in.

That new $200 million stadium in New York is another bonus for the players, since no owner in MLS wants a sparkling new stadium in the nation’s largest media market standing empty. 

Of course the owners are willing to play this season under the terms of the old collective bargaining agreement and sure they’ll promise not to lock out the players.

The ball, to steal a metaphor from tennis, is in the players’ court.

Will they lob it back, adopt a live-and-let-live approach and start kicking balls in anger as scheduled later this month – new CBA or not?

Or will they go for the wicked forehand winner, take the hard line and try to hit the owners in the wallet in a World Cup season?

It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

19 thoughts on “MLS, Players Union Agree To Mediation”

  1. “The union will NEVER have more leverage in these discussions than they have right now.”

    Really? I would think the union might have more leverage when MLS teams start at least mostly turning a profit.

    1. MLS owners are making plenty of money. They just put the profits on the books of SUM, instead of the MLS franchises.

  2. I agree the union has a lot of leverage right now. The profit of the league isn’t the issue. The league owners stake in MLS is like the stake one has in the stock of Value company. The stock may be in the dumps but the value of the stock far outweighs the stock price. MLS owners don’t want a strike because they have so much invested in the league and they don’t want to walk away, either. In other words they aren’t interested in cutting their losses.

    A strike is the only way the players can force the owners to negotiate fairly.

  3. In my humble opinion a strike will not be devasting to the league. In the long run it may help the league by making the relationship between the owners and the players more balanced.

    I never understand fans who side with owners in a work dispute. The fans have more in common with the players. Fans who harp on the negativity of a strike seem to do so out of the selfish desire for their own gratification.

    If the players do strike they most certainly are taking a long term perspective and doing so for the benefit of all the players both now and in the future.

    A strike should always be a last resort but it is a necessity if owners refuse to negotiate in good faith. It is the only real leverage workers have if owners remain fixed on their own needs. Remember, without the players their is no game.

    1. ‘The fans have more in common with the players’

      Really Mark? I have loads in common with guys like Chad Barrett who make 195k a year to suck at my job knowing that I can’t get fired because of my guaranteed contract.

      ‘A strike should always be a last resort but it is a necessity if owners refuse to negotiate in good faith’

      What makes you think the owners haven’t negotiated in good faith?

      ‘Remember, without the players their is no game’

      That’s funny. I seem to remember in 1992 there were lots of players in the US but there was no professional game. I wonder why not. Could it be BECAUSE THERE WERE NO OWNERS WILLING TO LOSE MILLIONS TO RUN A LEAGUE.

      1. Gazza, you and I are baffled by the comments of those siding with the players.
        There are thousands of soccer players in the US alone, a virtual unlimited supply, but there are only a handful of owners that can and are willing to put up money for the league.
        Not saying I am siding with the owners…but it should read WITHOUT A FEW OWNERS WILLING TO TAKE RISKS WITH 10s OF MILLIONS THERE WOULD BE NO LEAGUE.

        1. I see where you’re coming from Charlie. Sometimes the owners don’t get the kind of kudos they deserve.

          And yes, without a few ballsy investors, we wouldn’t have a league and these players probably wouldn’t be playing professional footy. But, be careful how far you take the “no owners, no league” thinking.

          You could extend that argument to just about any labor dispute in any business. I’m not saying MLS is like some kind of sweatshop or anything. But the players do have some legitimate gripes. Mainly regarding minimum pay and guaranteed/semi-guaranteed contracts IMO. Hell, even I have a guaranteed contract in my job! I’m not going to touch the whole free agency thing at all as it confuses the fraking hell out of me. I just hope the players aren’t being too unreasonable.

          I think the pressure of opening day fast approaching, and the level-headed…ness (maybe that’s a word) of a third party is exactly what both sides need to get a deal signed.

  4. The new stadium is in NEW JERSEY not New York. They are right outside of Newark a good 15 to 20 mins from the City. The fact that they are still able to call them New York is a joke since they are even farther away from the city now than the Jets and Giants are.

      1. Red Bull Harrison. Now there’s a catchy name. Either way, I don’t expect the Red Bull NY name to stick around much longer. Don’t get me wrong, I think Red Bull deserves major props for all the money they’ve sunk into this team. But naming the team after the parent company isn’t the easiest way of connecting with the locals. Nothing wrong with changing back to Metrostars (I like Metropolis Football Club a little better IMO) with a huge Red Bull logo on the shirt.

        Also, I’m not from the area (so please correct me if I’m wrong), but it does seem like it’s easier to get to and from RB Arena via public transit than the Meadowlands.

        1. They just built a brand new train station right next to the new Meadowlands stadium so someone like me in CT can jump on a train and go straight to the stadium without switching trains like the Yankees did.

  5. I would just point out no owners are threatening to walk away from M.L.S.! So, this argument doesn’t seem relevant to me.

    Regarding Gazza’s statement that he doesn’t have a guaranteed contract. I don’t know what you do for a living? But chances are you don’t worry about career ending injuries or a career which will last ten years if you’re lucky. Besides, in some way’s you do have a guaranteed contract in that if you do become disabled your employer probably provides a disability benefit, sick pay, pensions, etc. Plus social security provides disability benefits. It seems to me the players are mostly interested in more freedom of movement type issues and better pay. These are both issues you have more control over in your employment contract. You can negotiate these with any employer.

    To compare your career to a sports career is naive.

    I would also add I hope there is no strike. I’m just saying, sometimes the threat of a strike, or a short strike, will motivate owners to take the players seriously.

    What makes me think the owners are not negotiating seriously? Sixty plus years of being on both sides of contract disputes.

    1. Fair enough. But I wouldn’t belittle the chance of a severe office injury on the Gaz-man. Those steel file cabinets can rip a shin in half! 😉

      Since it seems like you have a lot of experience on these kind of disputes (sincere comment, no sarcasm). What’s your take on them bringing in a mediator? Any predictions as to what kind of deal will be hammered out in the end?

  6. I’m not particularly versed in all the negotiating points related to the owners and players, so I don’t have much to add. I’m just, generally, on the side of employees in situations where the owners hold all the cards. MLS isn’t like the NBA where players have million dollar contracts guaranteed. On the one hand they are trying to just get a living wage for the developmental players and raise the minimum wage for senior players and they are asking for more freedom of movement.

    Mediation? As long as it doesn’t look like the new TV show “The Marriage Ref,” it might be alright. Bottom line the players need to feel there has been progress toward better wages and freedom of movement. Hopefully that can be accomplished with a mediator taking the emotion out of the negotiations for both owners and players.

    As long as the end result turns out to be a blue print for how congress should act, it might be alright.

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