U.S. Soccer announced on Tuesday that it has offered “identical” CBA proposals to the unions representing the U.S. Women’s National Team and the U.S. Men’s National Team. The offer isn’t an attempt to resolve the Equal Pay Act lawsuit brought by USWNT players. Those players demand backpay and other damages stemming from terms in their current CBA, which is set to expire on Dec. 31, and previous CBA. However, the offer is consistent with U.S. Soccer’s public assurances that it wants the two teams to be treated equally and that it is up to those teams to agree.
U.S. Soccer’s statement also expressed hope that the two unions “come together to negotiate one contract.” To date, the teams have elected to negotiate through separate unions, leading to different CBAs and varying systems for wages and other employment conditions.
While USMNT players negotiated a pay structure wherein they can earn high bonuses but forgo guarantees, USWNT players negotiated higher guarantees and lower bonuses. That framework reflects, at least in part, USMNT players earning much higher salaries from their club teams and thus being less reliant on U.S. national team payments. USMNT’s CBA expired a few years ago, though the terms of an expired CBA continue in effect (under the labor law principle of status quo) until there is a new agreement or an impasse in negotiations.
USWNT and USMNT players—who in a recent amicus brief argued that USWNT players should have received “higher pay” than the men—could negotiate in unison or go so far as to formally establish one union. However, the mechanics of forming one union would be multifaceted given that each team is currently represented by its own union (USWNSTPA or USNSTPA). To strip an existing union of its bargaining power would necessitate the decertification process.
That would involve, among other steps, at least 30% of the players in each bargaining unit signing cards that petition for a decertification election, the National Labor Relations Board certifying the votes and setting an election date about two months later, and then a majority voting in favor to decertify in the election.
If the unions for USWNT and USMNT continue to negotiate separately, U.S. Soccer said it will invite each union to sit in on the other’s negotiations. That invitation, U.S. Soccer’s statement pledged, is “in the interest of full transparency.” U.S. Soccer has insisted it previously offered USWNT’s union the same pay structure that USMNT players have, but that the women’s players rejected it.
U.S. Soccer’s statement also reiterated that FIFA World Cup prize money distributed to the two teams ought to be “equalized” and that it will go so far as to “not agree to any CBA” that doesn’t contain an equalizing feature. FIFA awards far less in prize money to women and is the source of bonus money for both teams. In a statement last Friday, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone stressed that “FIFA alone controls” prize money and that “U.S. Soccer is legally obligated to distribute those funds based on our current negotiated CBAs.” Parlow Cone wants the CBAs to equalize the prize money as well as provide “identical game bonuses and identical commercial and revenue sharing agreements.”
Barring a settlement, USWNT players’ litigation with U.S. Soccer will last beyond the expiration of the current CBA. It is expected that next spring or summer, a yet-to-be-named panel of three Ninth Circuit judges will hear oral arguments in USWNT players’ appeal of Judge Gary Klausner’s granting of summary judgment for U.S. Soccer. Several months after the hearing, a ruling by the Ninth Circuit would be issued. The ruling could spark a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for further review.
With assistance from Luke Cyphers.