[MLS] By not quite as resounding a margin as they approved a possible strike, MLS players have ratified the new, five-year collective bargaining agreement. The MLS Players Union sent out a release Tuesday stating that 84 percent of the players approved the CBA in voting conducted by representatives of the individual teams.
In early March, with laborious negotiations having stalled far short of an agreement, the players approved a strike action by a resounding vote of 383-2.
That vote didn't bind the players to a strike, which had been provisionally scheduled to commence a few days before the March 25 season opener, but it certainly conveyed to the owners their discontent. So why, then, did 16 percent of them – which would approximate four players per team -- vote against ratification of the CBA? Is there an undercurrent of anger embedded among the proud pronouncements by player representatives and union executive director Bob Foose of what they accomplished without striking?
“They didn't do nearly enough for the rank-and-file, and those players are not happy,” said a player agent who would not be quoted for attribution. “The owners are high-fiving each other because they have fixed labor costs for the next five years, and Bob Foose and the player reps are patting themselves on the back.”
In the union’s release, Foose said, “We are pleased to announce that our members have ratified the agreement. The process of negotiating this agreement was long and challenging, but we were able to make real improvements for players, and we look forward to turning our attention back to the continued development of the sport and the league.”
Agents had hoped the players would win free agency, which the league adamantly opposes both on financial grounds and the effect it might have if a legal action was filed challenging the league’s single-entity structure. MLS gave the players concessions on guaranteed contracts, a reduction in unilateral option years, and limited leverage of movement for players out of contract. Still, MLS players have fewer rights, and much less leverage, than their counterparts in most developed countries.
“We can’t make all the players happy no matter what we do,” said Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad, a member of the union’s executive committee, during the CBA negotiations. “Players in this league come from a lot of different backgrounds and they have different expectations. Our job is to do the best we can for the vast majority of them and address some of the inequities we didn’t address in the last round of CBA talks [in 2004].”
The league has not announced ratification of the CBA by the Board of Governors, though a vote to do so has reportedly been conducted. The actual CBA document – which includes hundreds of details hashed out following announcement of the agreement -- has not yet been made available. The Board is also finalizing a new deal for Commissioner Don Garber, whose contract expired in December. AEG President Tim Leiweke stated a few days after MLS Cup 2009 that once the CBA process had been completed the league would wrap up a new deal for Garber.