MLS reaches agreement with referees to end month-long lockout

<span>The new CBA is the longest labor deal for match officials in MLS history. </span><span>Photograph: Arlyn McAdorey/AP</span>
The new CBA is the longest labor deal for match officials in MLS history. Photograph: Arlyn McAdorey/AP

Major League Soccer referees will return to work this weekend after ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement that ends a month-long lockout, the league said on Tuesday.

The seven-year agreement between the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) and Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) runs through 2030 and is the longest labor deal for match officials in MLS history, according to the league. PRSA is the labor union representing referees who work MLS matches. PRO, which was formed in a 2012 partnership between between MLS and US Soccer, manages MLS match officials.

“We look forward to having the PRO match officials return this weekend, and we thank MLS players, coaches and clubs for their professionalism, and our fans for their support throughout the opening month of the season,” MLS executive vice-president Nelson Rodriguez said in a statement.

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After the PSRA rejected a proposed new labor pact in mid-February, the PRO locked out referees before the 2024 MLS season opener featuring Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami. At the time, the PSRA said the failed ratification was driven by issues with the compensation and benefits PRO was offering, as well as a lack of improvements to travel, scheduling and other quality-of-life concerns.

“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,” PSRA president and lead negotiator Peter Manikowski said in a statement when announcing the lockout.

Replacement officials from the lower divisions of US Soccer, Jamaica, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Poland, Mexico and Italy were drafted in to cover the 37-day lockout. PRO last locked out MLS referees over labor talks in 2014, when replacement officials were used for the first two weeks of the season. That lock out passed largely without incident, but the early stages of this season have been blighted by errors.

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As the weeks passed, managers and players started to vocalize their frustrations at the quality of the replacement officials. “Twenty-two added minutes, red card on the [Chicago] goalkeeper that isn’t given, their third goal came from a corner that shouldn’t have been, their first goal was offside,” CF Montréal head coach Laurent Courtois said after his team lost 4-3 to Chicago Fire. “Something was taken away from my guys.”

During the opening weekend of the season, Mark Delgado was incorrectly sent off for the LA Galaxy just minutes before Inter Miami scored an equalizer. The next week, an official incorrectly awarded a throw-in that led to Philadelphia Union scoring against Sporting KC. “It’s just so infuriating when you work so hard for the time you do, and then such a blatant mistake really costs you,” Sporting KC captain Johnny Russell said after the match. “It’s difficult. It leaves sort of a sour taste in your mouth.”

PRO general manager Mark Geiger said in an interview with ESPN earlier this month that the replacement referees used this season failed to meet the standard set by the unionized officials in 2023.

As part of the new CBA, referees, assistant referees and assistant video referees will receive raises. Under the previous CBA, officials with less than two years experience were paid $50,000 a year, according to the Athletic. That will jump to $85,000 under the new terms. Officials with more experience will see their pay increase to $142,000, up from the $108,000 they were paid under the old agreement.

By 2030, the salary for officials with under 200 games of experience will rise to $110,000. Officials with 200 games or more of experience will be paid $182,000 a year.

“We thank the hundreds of officials in the US and Canada who stood in solidarity with us showing their strength and professionalism,” Manikowski said in a statement on Tuesday. “Together, we have won much-needed improvements while demonstrating the value of having the best referees in Major League Soccer on the pitch.”