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In what is likely to be a pivotal year for both national soccer teams, U.S. Soccer says it’s making progress in labor negotiations with the women’s squad—but that’s yet to happen with the men.
“We have been encouraged by the constructive nature of our recent CBA negotiations with the Women’s National Team,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone wrote in an open letter to the federation’s fans Tuesday. “These discussions have benefited greatly from the consistent and active participation of the women’s players at the bargaining table.”
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U.S. Soccer and WNT representatives have met frequently, including several collective bargaining sessions this month and five more scheduled over the coming weeks, and agreed to extend the existing CBA through March.
But there has been little formal movement toward a men’s CBA. “We still have much work ahead of us in our negotiations with representatives for the Men’s National Team,” Parlow Cone’s letter said.
“Right now in terms of scheduled meetings individually, we don’t have any of those at this point in time,” said Will Wilson, U.S. Soccer CEO, on a press call.
Wilson and Parlow Cone said men’s team representatives have been present during the women’s CBA negotiations. “We hope that trend continues,” Wilson said.
U.S. Soccer offered identical contracts to the women’s and men’s players’ associations last fall, proposing to align both teams under a single CBA with the same World Cup prize money. Though there was a first-ever joint November meeting with both unions, the two players’ associations have opted to negotiate separately.
“While we haven’t received a commitment from either union to move forward with a single pay structure, we have been encouraged that they are willing to join us in discussions about that possibility as we continue to negotiate separate CBAs with each for now,” the letter said, adding that U.S. Soccer will not agree to any CBA that doesn’t include equalizing World Cup prize money.
Parlow Cone said during the press call, however, that the goal of equal prize money, as well as a commitment to equality on issues such as revenue sharing, doesn’t mean there will be identical CBAs. “Will there be differences in the contract? Yes,” she said.
The CBAs are being negotiated during a crucial period for U.S. Soccer. The men are vying to secure a spot in the 2022 World Cup after disastrously failing to qualify for the 2018 event. The women’s team is starting to rebuild as an aging golden generation of stars, such as Carli Lloyd, begins to walk away from the game.
Beyond that, a group of women’s players is continuing a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer over claims of past pay discrimination, with a hearing scheduled in March. “U.S. Soccer remains committed to resolving this case outside of court for the long-term benefit of the sport at all levels,” Parlow Cone’s letter said. “We would happily agree to settle so that we can focus on working together to chart a more positive and collaborative path forward.”
Meanwhile, Parlow Cone is being challenged for the U.S. Soccer presidency by former president Carlos Cordeiro, who resigned from the position under fire in 2020 after an uproar over sexist language in U.S. Soccer’s legal filings in the USWNT case.
The election takes place at U.S. Soccer’s annual general meeting in Atlanta on March 5. Parlow Cone wouldn’t comment on Cordeiro’s candidacy but said, “I feel I’m the right person to lead U.S. Soccer at this time. We have a lot of momentum.”
Both the legal hearing and the possibility of a Cordeiro restoration could have impacts on the momentum of the CBA talks, though Wilson said the upcoming election is having no bearing on the negotiations.
In past negotiations, the players have chosen to use separate unions, which, in turn, have chosen to bargain separately. This unattached bargaining with U.S. Soccer has produced different systems of pay and compensation. USWNT players are guaranteed higher floors, but at the tradeoff of lower bonuses, while USMNT players can earn lucrative bonuses but without guarantees.
This has resulted in at times wide disparities, with men’s national teamers earning more than the women despite performing far worse in major competitions—an issue that has undergirded USWNT legal action against U.S. Soccer.
More recently, U.S. Soccer has underscored that this dual framework advantaged the women’s players during the 2020 stretch where both teams’ games were canceled on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. USWNT players received their salary and benefits while the men’s players, without guarantees, weren’t paid.
U.S. Soccer says it wants the same system for both, and one that equalizes FIFA World Cup Prize money for the two teams.
USWNT and USMNT can continue to play without agreeing to new CBAs. The men have played with an expired CBA since 2018, without any labor dispute or related interruption. USMNT and U.S. Soccer have relied on the labor law principle of status quo. It dictates that the terms of an expired CBA remain in effect until a new deal is reached or an impasse occurs in negotiations.
Should U.S. Soccer and the women’s team reach an agreement on a new CBA, the agreement would not, by itself, alter the USWNT players’ litigation over claims of past and ongoing pay discrimination. U.S. Soccer prevailed at the trial court level in 2020. The case is currently under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and an oral argument is scheduled for March 7 in Pasadena, Calif.
Parlow Cone acknowledged the ongoing litigation represents “a problem, not only for U.S. Soccer but for our sport in general,” adding that the case “has contributed to a lot of negative things happening and being said.” Parlow Cone further stressed that while there is “overlap” in the two situations, the lawsuit is brought by a different group (players) than the group (union) negotiating a new CBA.
A new CBA would address pay going forward, but not allegations related to past pay (and, potentially, accompanying monetary damages). Yet if the two sides can find common ground on a labor agreement, they might better see a path towards reaching a settlement in their litigation as well. In both instances, the payer would be the same: U.S. Soccer.
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