The Major League Soccer Players Association (MLSPA) has expressed its frustrations regarding the lockout of the league’s referees. MLS referees were officially barred from games on Saturday, just four days from the start of the 2024 season. The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) decided to lock out the refs after the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) declined the latest labor proposal.

“The lockout imposed on PSRA members and deployment of replacement referees is a step backward for MLS,” proclaimed the MLSPA. “All workers deserve a fair wage, safe working conditions, and the ability to collectively bargain in good faith.”

“On the eve of the 2024 MLS season, attention should be focused on the competition on the field. The use of replacement referees will not only negatively impact the quality and results of our matches, it may also jeopardize the health and safety of players.”

As a result of the move, MLS will use replacement referees moving forward. Barring an extremely late deal between the two sides, these alternative refs take the field for the league’s opening 2024 match on Wednesday night. PRO last locked out MLS referees back in 2014. Replacement officials were then used for the first two weeks of the campaign.

Regular MLS referees demand better contracts as they protest PRO headquarters

According to the Referees’ Association, 95.8% of voting officials chose to reject the most recent proposal. The PSRA claimed that the overwhelming opposition to the deal was due to issues with pay and benefits. Scheduling, travel, and qualify-of-life problems were other snags.

MLS referees also scheduled a protest outside the headquarters of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) in New York City on Wednesday. The picket will take place for four hours beginning at noon. Protestors included official members of the PSRA.

The referees brought their own special yellow and red cards with them to the picket. Instead of small cards, however, the colored signs donned specific slogans regarding the dispute. This includes posters that read “Blow the Whistle on unfair labor practices” and “Fair Pay for Fair Play.”

Lockout could not have come at a worse time for MLS

While the regular referees demand an improved deal, MLS claims that their offer is more than fair. The North American division says that the PSRA officials would have been among the highest-paid soccer referees in the world.

Nevertheless, the lockout is undoubtedly a bad look for MLS. The 2024 season is one of the most anticipated campaigns of the division in recent years. A significant reason for this is the fact that it will be Lionel Messi’s first full season with Inter Miami. The superstar previously played six total MLS games last year. He is ready to settle in for a complete campaign in the United States.

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MLS is banking so much on Messi and Miami that they chose to have the Floridian side kick off the 2024 campaign. Miami opens the season against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. Now, however, replacement referees could potentially have a major say in how the season starts for the league.

Photos: Jonathan Tannenwald

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