The U.S. Soccer Federation scored a legal victory over the union representing the U.S. women’s soccer team Friday, as a U.S. district court judge ruled that the team was bound to an implied no-strike clause contained in a 2013 agreement between the two sides.
At issue was the validity of that 2013 agreement. No one disputes that the team’s last official labor contract expired in 2012, and in March 2013 the two sides signed a revised memorandum of understanding that extended the collective bargaining agreement through the end of 2016. But in an attempt to secure equal wages and playing conditions as the U.S. men’s team, the executive director of the women’s team union told U.S. Soccer officials late last year that the union did not consider the memorandum of understanding valid as a collective bargaining agreement and warned that if a new CBA was not enacted by Feb. 24 of this year, the team would no longer be bound by the no-strike clause contained in the previous CBA.
U.S. Soccer officials also said that Richard Nichols, the union’s executive director, told them he would not rule out a strike ahead of this year’s Rio Olympics, which Nichols denied. In response, U.S. Soccer asked a federal judge to validate the memorandum of understanding in early February. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman did so on Friday, ruling that the union failed to convince her that the terms of the earlier collective bargaining agreement did not carry over to the 2013 memorandum of understanding.
“Federal law encourages courts to be liberal in their recognition and interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, so as to lessen strife and encourage congenial relations between unions and companies,” Coleman wrote in her ruling. “A collective bargaining agreement may be partly or wholly oral and a written collective bargaining agreement may be orally modified.”
Former U.S. women’s soccer player Julie Foudy, now a commentator for ESPN, questioned the tactics of the USWNT’s labor leader, calling the situation an expensive failure:
The USWNT has long been unhappy with what it sees as an unequal playing field compared with the men’s national team, and in March five members of the women’s team filed a federal wage-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (Thursday’s ruling had nothing directly to do with that). The women pointed out that U.S. Soccer financial data from last year showed they were paid nearly four times less than the men’s players despite generating much more revenue. USSF officials contend that the revenue figures from 2015 were skewed by the fact that the women played in — and won — the World Cup and went on a revenue-producing victory tour, while the men’s team was only just beginning qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Unequal pay is just one issue. 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, 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).
“The court’s ruling today does not negate the fact that U.S. Soccer does not fairly compensate the women’s national team, or in any way impact the players’ demands for equal pay for equal work,” Nichols said, per the New York Times. “We respect the judge’s decision and naturally, the members of the USWNT look forward to representing the USA in the Olympic Games.”
According to the New York Times, the two sides met twice in may in an attempt to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
“Today, Judge Coleman ruled in favor of U.S. Soccer and affirmed that the existing CBA with the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is valid through the end of 2016, including the no-strike, no-lockout provision,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement. “We are pleased with the Court’s decision and remain committed to negotiating a new CBA to take effect at the beginning of next year.”
The USWNT will be going for its fourth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio.