Saturday, February 20, 2010

Labor Pains

News started circulating Friday afternoon that negotiations between the MLS players' union and the league on a new collective bargaining agreement might be in considerable trouble as the February 25 deadline to reach a new agreement looms.  In addition to on-the-record comments by MLS veterans and player reps Joe Cannon and Pat Onstad, a plethora of MLS Tweeters, including Nick Rimando, Taylor Twellman and Brian Ching let their followers know that all was not well at the bargaining table.

As Jason Davis points out at Match Fit USA, the timing of the players' on-the-record comments certainly would indicate a coordinated communications effort.  As someone who works professionally in PR, I know that Friday afternoon is always a good time to drop a bomb.  The opposition is, more often than not, unprepared to respond and the intended messages can resonate over the weekend.

All of this has MLS fans wringing their hands and asking, "Can they really be that stupid?"  For owners a work stoppage - whether lockout or strike - could not come at a worse time, with the Philadelphia Union poised to join the league, the Red Bulls preparing to open their sparkling new stadium and the World Cup on the horizon.  Are they really going to piss away all these positive story lines because they don't want to allow Dave van den Bergh and Kevin Hartman to move to new teams free of compensation?  It seems unlikely but, if the players are to be believed, the owners are playing hardball and not ceding any ground on major issues.

From the players' perspective, a work stoppage could be equally damaging.  For all its saber rattling, the MLSPU does not have the bargaining power on a par with unions in the other major North American professional sports.  Any lengthy work stoppage would be devastating to the wallets of players who are already earning a fraction of what many of their brethren in Europe command.  Is now really the best time for them to be pushing hard on free agency?  Stan Chelney suggests at Soccerlaw that it may not be, and that meta-issues such as free agency are rarely, if ever, resolved at the bargaining table.

As fans, all we can do is sit tight and hope that cooler heads prevail. In the meantime, none of this can be good for ticket sales and player signings, not to mention my nerves.


  1. Well, the MLS did come out today with a response pushing back at some of the claims of the players. More importantly, they announced that they will not lockout the players ( ). This puts a stoppage squarely on the the laps of the players.

    I'm headed to Florida this week, and am aiming to get to Disney for the game on the 27th. Man I will be pissed if they call a work stoppage on the 25th! (And this is a pittance compared to the thought of a delay to our inaugural RBA season.)