There are only three teams that have secured their spot in the United States Football League (USFL) playoffs, but hundreds of players scored a victory on Monday night. USFL players voted to form a union, which they believe will better represent their collective interests and protect their rights.
The players, who approved the union by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, also elected to partner with the United Steelworkers (USW), one of the nation’s largest unions. The vote took place in Birmingham, Ala., where the Fox Sports-owned league headquarters are located.
The United Football Players Association (UFPA), which champions the interests of non-NFL pro football players, organized the voting process and has been leading the unionization efforts. The UFPA and USW partnered in February to advocate for players on various financial and healthcare issues while pushing for greater transparency on compensation plans and travel accommodations.
This approval comes as the Canadian Football League (CFL) and its players union agreed to a tentative labor deal last month, which ended a strike. USW also supported the CFL players association in their labor dispute.
The USW-backed USFL players union is expected to start bargaining on a labor contract once this week’s election results are officially certified by the National Relations Labor Board. All USFL players, roughly 370, were offered the chance to vote on unionization, a move that hasn’t been opposed by USFL parent company, Fox Corp. (NASDAQ: FOXA). While the league issued a statement encouraging players to not unionize, the lack of pushback early on is a different tone from around the country where major companies like Amazon and Apple have been accused of using union-busting tactics.
“At the end of the day, we want this thing to be a partnership, where we can come in as a union and bring benefits because we’ve seen the [pitfalls] we’ve had to deal with on our own,” said UFPA chairman Kenneth Farrow II, a former running back who played for defunct pro leagues such as the XFL. “We want it to be successful… This [pro] level is probably one of the only without a player’s union right now.”
The union seeks to increase player compensation and expand benefits so that they’re more closely aligned with XFL 3.0, which is expected to pay its players slightly more than the USFL’s $45,000 active roster salary. The difference in compensation packages potentially impacts the market as the leagues compete for top talent. It remains to be seen if both leagues can co-exist in an already competitive entertainment space, with FOX and NBC Sports partnering with USFL while ESPN is set to broadcast XFL games starting next year.
While the focus currently is on the USFL, UFPA also wants to provide protection for XFL players, who are members of the nonprofit organization but aren’t represented through a union.
The collapse of spring leagues such as the Alliance of American Football and the last iteration of the XFL left many players without financial recourse to face unpaid travel expenses and medical bills. As these alternative pro football leagues resurface, players are looking to avoid a similar situation and want more guarantees, since history has shown the difficulty of operating a successful spring league.
“Being able to organize and a have voice in some of things that we’ve witnessed and gone through, while bringing more of a positive experience and sustainability is going to be huge,” Farrow added. “That’s especially when you have more [football] opportunities coming up on these bigger platforms.”