Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Mysteries of the MLS Labor Showdown

By Nordecke Luchador

Tune in this Tuesday to World Football Daily with Stephen Cohen and Kenny Hassan, when the head of MLS Solidarity will expose Don Garber, Mark Abbott and the other suits in the MLS front office for the soulless, shortsighted, corporate thugs that they are. The specific time will be announced Monday. As the Nordecke Luchador prepares to face the U.S. Soccer Nation, he offers this blog post to put the current labor struggle into perspective.

The Three Mysteries of the MLS Labor Showdown:

Mystery No. 1: What does the league want? Commissioner Garber has spoken  in Orwellian Doublespeak from the beginning, saying such nonsense as: "We remain hopeful" and "We will not agree to any deal that compromises the long-term viability of the league." But the league bosses have never once explained exactly why they believe the league cannot give the majority of players guaranteed rather than "semi-guaranteed" contracts and keep the league economically viable.  "Semi-guaranteed" means nothing. The current structure is so slanted in favor of the owners that it is an international embarrassment. 
Mystery No. 2: Where is the Union leadership? At a time when they clearly should be making their case forcefully and vocally, the Players Union has been silent. Sure, both the league and the players have agreed to a gag order imposed by Federal Mediator George H. Cohen, but there are ways around such an order that a savvy union could use to make their case to the public.  The home page for the MLS Players Union lists this top "news" item: Chicago Fire sign Dutch Player Collins John. There is nothing on the site about the most important moment in the history of the league, the union and perhaps American soccer history. The Union doesn't even acknowledge that there is a dispute and explain why they can't talk. The most recent "news release"  is an Aug. 14,2008, statement about the SuperLiga.

So kudos to Toronto FC defender Nick Garcia who broke the silence last week when he said he expects the players to strike if a new collective bargaining agreement is not negotiated before the start of the regular season. Article Here. 

But it remains a mystery why Bob Foose and the other union leaders don't find ways to garner more public understanding and support for their cause. If the public understood just how poorly the players are treated by the current CBA relative to every other major sports league, they might understand that this isn't a battle between million dollar athletes and million dollar owners.  This is about  a league that wants to maintain the status quo and continue to treat the product on the field (the labor) as second class citizens.  

Union President Bob Foose and the players are working to alter the structure of MLS player contracts. The current agreement offers few guaranteed contracts and "semi-guaranteed" contracts are anything but a legal, binding set of obligations by the league as they
allow the team bosses to cut players before July 1 without having to fullfill their obligation under the terms of the original agreement  

Equally important there is no free agency, so a player who gets cut by the single-entity league has virtually no chance to seek employment on another team.  After players are released their teams retain their rights which forces other teams to trade for those rights if they want to sign that player.  This makes it very difficult for the players to negotiate in order to find a new home.  As such, they don't even own their own labor, which in this case is the talent they bring to the field as one of the best soccer workers in the entire US.  Remember, they aren't cut by their team per se, they are cut by the entire league.  This is tantamount to a worker at GM being fired and then prevented from taking his skills over to Ford.  In the rest of the working world it's called collusion, and it's unconstitutional and about as American as Vietnam, Halliburton and the River Rouge Massacre.  The end result is that players are entangled in options that maximize the power of the league over individual players to an extent that no American worker would tolerate.

The whole system is highly exploitive of lower-level players who are left with sweatshop wages and no measure of control over their careers. (Keep in mind, for example, that the Crew's Steven Lenhart’s base salary in 2009 was less than $34,000. This was a huge increase over his 2008 salary of $12,900 when he was on the developmental squad, but hardly the wage of someone whose skills place him in the top 1% of all American soccer workers).  For more on MLS salaries, read 
this article from the Luchametric archive.

All the union wants is a collective bargaining agreement that is consistent with US sport economics and US labor values and that abides by the same rules as the rest of the soccer planet under FIFA. 

For a detailed analysis of the many injustices built into the present system by the MLS, read this article by the Houston Chronicle's Jose De Jesus Ortiz.     

Mystery No. 3: Who are the scabs? Reports have been inconsistent on the exact number of players who voted to strike last week. Steven Goff reported in his Soccer Insider "Blog" that the vote was 350-2. ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and other sources have reported the vote was 383-2. But no one has denied the story that the players voted overwhelmingly to strike if a deal is not reached by 12:01 March 23. And all reports are that there were only two dissenters. MLS Solidarity is working its networks to uncover the names, and when discovered they will be reported at
There are two sides to every struggle: What side, you on?

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