(Major League Soccer) (Major League Soccer)

In a near-unanimous vote, MLS referees authorized the union to strike if a collective bargaining agreement is not reached with officiating management before the March 8 season openers.

The 64-1 vote, confirmed by union lead negotiator Steve Taylor, does not necessarily mean the Professional Soccer Referee Association will go on strike but does signify membership unity ahead of two negotiating sessions in the next 10 days. (Eleven referees did not participate in the online vote that opened Wednesday and closed Friday night.)

The vote comes at a contentious time: Aside from the negotiations, the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board this week, claiming a representative from the Professional Referee Organization, which manages officiating in the pro leagues, threatened at least 10 referees with retribution if they continued with union activities.

The referees unionized last year and have had more than 20 meetings with PRO in efforts to reach a first CBA. The absence of a CBA before the season starts would not prevent the referees from working. However, it would increase the likelihood of a stoppage at some point.

One of the options available to the PSRA is an unfair labor practice strike. In that event, PRO would be forced to cover MLS games using less-experienced officials who primarily work in the lower divisions. However, Taylor pointed out his membership roster is much deeper than the 76 officials primarily working MLS games. He recalled a dispute several years ago involving Interliga, a U.S.-based tournament featuring Latin American clubs. During that dispute, the USSF attempted to cover games with less-experienced officials. PSRA members were united, however, and a majority declined assignments.

For further information about the labor talks, click here to read last week’s story.