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U.S. women’s soccer wins higher pay, improved support with five-year labor deal

The U.S. women won their third World Cup trophy in 2015 in Vancouver. They’ve also won four Olympic gold medals. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

The U.S. women’s soccer players’ union and the sport’s governing body have agreed to a five-year collective bargaining agreement, improving standards for the national team and pro league and ensuring labor harmony through the next World Cup and Olympics.

In a joint statement, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association and U.S. Soccer Federation said they have “ratified a new collective bargaining agreement which will continue to build the women’s program in the U.S., grow the game of soccer worldwide and improve the professional lives of players on and off the field. We are proud of the hard work and commitment to thoughtful dialogue reflected through this process, and look forward to strengthening our partnership moving forward.”

The sides had been operating under the terms of the previous deal, which expired Dec. 31. In recent years, the players have raised issues about compensation and working conditions compared to their male counterparts, casting a shadow over the efforts of the most successful women’s team in soccer history and pitting the federation against wildly popular athletes, such as Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.

In March 2016, the players  filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging the USSF with wage discrimination. The case remains active.

From the archives: USWNT’s wage-discrimination complaint was all about respect

“I am incredibly proud of this team and the commitment we have shown through this entire process,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said after the new deal was finalized. “While I think there is still much progress to be made for us and for women more broadly, I think the should be very proud of this deal and feel empowered moving forward.”

Financial specifics were not immediately available, but people with knowledge of the pact said it includes:

  • Increase in direct compensation
  • Increase in bonus compensation
  • Enhanced benefits related to travel and hotels
  • Per diem equal to the U.S. men’s team
  • Greater financial support for players who are pregnant
  • Financial support for players adopting a child

Also, in a key gain, the players’ association will now control group likeness rights for licensing and nonexclusive rights in sponsorship categories where USSF does not have an agreement. This will allow the union to market the team to different partners and gather internal data in efforts to further drive revenue.

The deal will run through Dec. 31, 2021, covering the 2019 World Cup in France and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It will continue compensating national team players allocated to National Women’s Soccer League teams and require improvements to NWSL standards. The league will kick off its fifth season April 15-16.

“I’m proud of the tireless work that the players and our bargaining team put in to promote the game and ensure a bright future for American players,” defender Meghan Klingenberg said. “We are excited to further strengthen the through our new revenue generating opportunities and abilities.”

The deal came a week after the U.S. women’s hockey team reached a four-year agreement with USA Hockey to end a wage dispute and avoid a boycott of the world championship.

The U.S. women’s hockey team fights the good fight — and wins

The soccer negotiations turned the corner this winter when the players fired Rich Nichols as their representative. Hope Solo, the controversial goalkeeper, had recommended Nichols for the job. However, his hard-line approach was detrimental to the process, said multiple sources, who described the relationship between the sides as “poor” and “contentious.”

After the change, individual players, such as defender Becky Sauerbrunn, became more involved.

During a current training camp in Texas, the players and USSF representatives engaged in marathon sessions to iron out, and ultimately ratify, the contract. The team will play two friendlies this week against Russia — at Toyota Stadium in the Dallas suburbs Thursday and at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston on Sunday.

“We believe this is another important step to continue our long-standing efforts to drive the growth of women’s soccer in the United States,” USSF President Sunil Gulati said. “This agreement helps to ensure the strength of the women’s national team, provide stability and growth potential for the National Women’s Soccer League, and over time strengthen the elite player development process at the grass-roots level. We believe our continued partnership will ensure a bright future for our sport for years to come.”