The U.S. Soccer Federation filed a lawsuit against the union representing the U.S. women’s soccer team in federal court Wednesday, a preemptive legal strike that seeks to address a growing labor rift between the two sides.

The USSF isn’t seeking any monetary damages in the lawsuit. Rather, it’s asking the court to validate its labor agreement with the team.

In effect, the lawsuit is a disagreement about whether the team has a valid labor agreement, as U.S. Soccer contends. [Union Executive Director Richard] 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 also claims that U.S. Soccer “reluctantly” filed the lawsuit only after Nichols did not rule out a strike in a meeting with the governing body on Wednesday. Nichols denied this to the Times:

“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.

The USWNT is in Texas preparing for Olympic qualifying, which begins Wednesday night with a match against Costa Rica.

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl explains what a court victory would mean for either side:

If the court rules that the memorandum of understanding is invalid, then the players would have much more leverage negotiating a new CBA with the possibility that they could strike before the Olympics. If the court rules that the memorandum of understanding is valid through the end of 2016, then it would be a legal victory for U.S. Soccer.

The USWNT has long been unhappy with what they see as an unequal playing field compared with the men’s national team. Sometimes literally: With bad memories of the artificial-turf fields used in last year’s Women’s World Cup still lingering, a victory-tour game in Hawaii was canceled in December after problems arose with Aloha Stadium’s fake-grass field (the U.S. men’s team always plays on grass). Other points of contention include flights to games (the women fly coach, Wahl said, while the men fly business class) and pay structure (the men are paid per point earned in the World Cup group stage, the women are not).

Nichols told Wahl that he hopes the team reaches a new labor agreement with the USSF before the Rio Olympics.

“Absolutely. We’d like to see one reached next week … Anything that has to do with working conditions for the team is on the table.”