MLS referees withdrew from the 2024 season’s first week of the season after the rejection of a collective bargaining deal. In fact, it has since caused widespread confusion. The outcome is that the league has had to bring in substitutes at the eleventh hour.

Almost all members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) voted against the PRO’s proposed negotiating agreement on Saturday. The Major League Soccer and other professional soccer leagues rely on their referees.

Following the vote, the PRO declared its intention to start the regular season with non-unionized substitute referees.

In total, 95.8% of PSRA members voted “no” when asked about the proposed deal. In the absence of their main officiating staff, PRO will begin season-opening preparations on February 18. Thus, PSRA officials will be shut out.

To begin the new MLS season on Wednesday, Real Salt Lake will play host to Inter Miami on MLS Season Pass. The match will be refereed by substitute referees unless there are major developments in the following several days.

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What did PSRA and PRO say?

The PSRA says the proposed deal did not provide enough economic benefits or measures to enhance people’s quality of life.

“The skyrocketing growth of MLS has significantly increased demands on officials mentally and physically, and as such has increased demands on both our professional and personal time”, union president Peter Manikowski said in a statement.

“Our members are asking not only for fair compensation at a time when the league is reporting record growth, but also for the ability to take care of themselves on the road and at home to continue officiating at the highest level that this sport demands,” he added.

After reviewing PRO’s proposal, the league found it to be a 25% improvement over the previous year’s offering.

Also, PRO general manager Mark Geiger released a statement. “We made meaningful progress during recent bargaining, agreeing to fair pay increases, and addressing many of the PSRA’s concerns with respect to non-economic items.

“This represented approximately a 25% overall increase over 2023 when comparing salary, retainers, game fees, and benefits plus the addition of business class travel for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The result of the membership vote is disappointing.”

What did MLS say?

Before negotiating a deal, MLS played the first two weeks of the 2014 season with substitute officials.  As a result, Nelson Rodriguez, VP of sporting products and competitions for MLS then responded.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the officials have voted against the tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement reached by the Professional Soccer Referees Association and the Professional Referee Organization.”

“PRO worked for months and addressed all the issues that were raised by PSRA’s bargaining unit. It is also unfortunate that the PSRA rejected PRO’s offer for a mutual no strike – no lockout commitment, which would have allowed all match officials to continue working during ongoing negotiations.

“PRO has informed us of its contingency plan for the upcoming MLS season, which includes utilizing experienced professional match referees supported by veteran VAR officials. We are confident in the comprehensive plan they have put in place.”

Photo: Imago

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