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U.S. Soccer Sues Union Representing the Women’s National Team


U.S. Soccer sued the union representing the world champion United States women’s national team in federal court Wednesday, a sudden escalation of a simmering labor fight over the team’s collective bargaining agreement.

In the lawsuit, U.S. Soccer, the national governing body for the sport, is seeking to have a court rule that the terms of the agreement — which expired in 2012 but has continued to be the guiding document over the relationship between the federation and star players like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan — remain valid. U.S. Soccer seeks no penalties; instead, it asked for “declaratory relief” stating that the players’ union must abide by a slightly modified version of the agreement that is set to expire in December.

U.S. Soccer said in the court filing that it “reluctantly” brought the action against the union representing the women’s team after the executive director of the union, Richard Nichols, threatened to repudiate the agreement and its no-strike clause in a negotiating session in New York.

Nichols, reached late Wednesday, rejected the accusation that he had raised the possibility of a labor action, saying, “There were no threats about strikes or work stoppages.” He said the players had merely “reserved our legal rights.”
“They interpreted that as a threat,” he said of U.S. Soccer.
Nichols added: “We have an honest disagreement about whether there is a valid C.B.A. We’re just trying to get some clarity.”
U.S. Soccer seems to share that goal. It released a statement in which it said it was seeking relief from the court to prevent labor actions from disrupting national team matches, the coming National Women’s Soccer League season and potentially even the Americans’ participation in this summer’s Olympics.
“We are confident the court will confirm the existence and validity of the current C.B.A., which has been in effect since U.S. Soccer and the Women’s National Team Players Association reached agreement almost three years ago,” U.S. Soccer said, adding, “While unfortunate, we believe taking this action provides the parties with the most efficient path to a resolution.”
In effect, the lawsuit is a disagreement about whether the team has a valid labor agreement, as U.S. Soccer contends. Nichols has argued that it does not.
In the lawsuit, U.S. Soccer acknowledged that the team’s last collective bargaining agreement expired in 2012, but the organization said that deal lived on as a revised memorandum of understanding that was signed in March 2013 with the players’ representatives. That memorandum was to expire at the end of 2016.
But on Dec. 24, Nichols, who took over as executive director of the players’ union in 2014, informed U.S. Soccer that the union considered the updated memorandum of understanding invalid as a collective bargaining agreement. He said that if a new agreement was not in place in 60 days — by Feb. 24 — the old one would end and the players would no longer be bound by its no-strike clause.
The lawsuit puts U.S. Soccer and its players in an uncomfortable adversarial position in what was expected to be a celebratory year. The women’s team’s popularity, always high, soared over the summer when it won the Women’s World Cup for the first time since 1999.
The players were honored in a parade in New York City after the tournament, and U.S. Soccer organized a 10-game victory tour. But signs of labor strife emerged during the tour; many of the games were scheduled to be played on artificial turf, annoying the players, who had sued FIFA a year earlier in an unsuccessful effort to have the World Cup played on grass.
Tensions came to a head in December when a victory-tour game at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii was canceled after the stadium’s artificial-turf playing surface was deemed unacceptable. U.S. Soccer’s president, Sunil Gulati, apologized for the fiasco, and U.S. Soccer pledged not to schedule any games on turf in the run-up to the Rio Games, but Nichols and the players were furious.
“I think women have made it clear, not just here but around the world, that playing on artificial turf is just not acceptable,” Nichols said at the time.

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Story courtesy of: Andrew Das


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