U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman
sided with U.S. Soccer in its lawsuit for summary judgment against the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Players Association over whether a memorandum
of understanding under which the federation and union have been operating since 2013 bound the union to a no-strike clause in the collective bargaining agreement that expired after 2012.
U.S. Soccer wanted a ruling so as to prevent the women from striking or attempting to strike before the Rio Olympics. The suit was filed in February when the federation was also seeking to enforce the
no-strike clause to prevent a labor action before the #SheBelieves Cup and the start of the NWSL season. The decision also means the women can't strike during the post-Olympic matches -- a Victory
Tour if they repeat as gold-medal winners. The women never said they would strike but repeatedly refused to agree to not strike.
The Federal case is separate from the EEOC complaint filed
by five women charging pay discrimination.
The judge ruled that the CBA was "partially integrated" into the MOU and therefore the MOU needed to be liberally interpreted. The union argued
the CBA needed to be interpreted literally -- ie. since there was nothing explicitly incorporating the CBA by reference, it should not be bound by such terms as the no-strike clause.
''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,'' she wrote in her decision. ''A collective bargaining agreement may be partly or wholly oral and a written collective bargaining agreement may be orally modified.''
noted that several parts of the MOU related to compensation and benefits were acted upon even though they were not clearly spelled out. She was swayed by emails from the union's representatives to the
players that they were acting upon the terms of the CBA when they were not spelled out in the MOU. And she noted the congenial relations that reigned during the era of John Langel
, the union's
attorney until 2014.
The union's lawyers backup argument was that Langel didn't have authority to bind the players. The judge rejected that argument.
U.S. Soccer issued a
statement that it was "pleased with the court's decision and remain[s] committed to negotiating a new CBA to take effect at the beginning of next year."
It has continued to negotiate with
the union. If no agreement is reached by the end of the year, the women would have the right to strike. But without a major championship for three years -- two-plus years for qualifying for the 2019
Women's World Cup -- the women won't have much leverage.