Finally: US Soccer Federation, Players Reach Interim Labor Agreement

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: January 22, 2005

Marcus Beasley
DaMarcus Beasley

MIAMI, FLA.–After months of sometimes bitter negotiations, The United States Soccer Federation and the Players Association have reched an interim agreement that will allow Head Coach Bruce Arena to chose his first team regulars for their opening final round qualification match up against Trinidad & Tobago on Feb. 9.

Late Friday night, the Player’s Association accepted a no-strike proposal for the rest of the year in exchange for a 38% increase in per game bonuses, ending the possibility that the United States would open the Hexagonal with minor league players.
The last collective bargaining agreement between the Players Assocication and the Federation expired in December of 2002. Under that agreement, players made $2000 per appearance with extra bonuses for wins or ties. The more important the match (i.e. international competitions or matches against Top 10 opponents) the greater the potential bonus. While that CBA made US players well paid in comparison to other Federations, it still fell short of other top teams such as France and Brazil. Moreover, the United States Soccer Federation has been able to earn more than a little of money over the past 15 years, especially with the success of the National Team at the 2002 World Cup which saw the US gain the quarterfinals.
The Players Association agreed to play under the last CBA upon its expiration and negotiate a new deal so long as that new deal included a clause that would pay the players retroactively from the end of the 2002 deal.
Over the next couple of years the players and federation traded offers with almost no effectiveness; the players looking for some of what they claimed was a $30 million surplus that they helped to bring to the Federation while the Federation charging that the money the players demanded would take away from some of the youth programs and other events that they routinely sponsored. The Players countered by saying that those programs are paid by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, as opposed to the Federation.
Negotiations took a dramatic turn in October of 2004 when the Federation yanked its proposal to pay the players retroactively back to the end of the last CBA. Now the Federation was offering the players much less than they wanted without the back pay due them under the “gentleman’s agreement” made in early 2003. In November the Players Association responded by stating that they would boycott a planned December training camp.
The Federation, in response, stated that should no agreement be reached by December 28, 2004, they would cancel plans for a January training camp, cancel two exhibition matches scheduled to assist the US in its preparations for T&T and call in replacement players for the T&T match if no agreement was in place at the start of February.
The two sides met briefly in mid December for about 20 minutes with nothing being accomplished. The Players Association came down slightly from their previous demands (100% increase from 120%)but nowhere near what the Federation was willing to offer (38%).
By this time Head Coach Bruce Arena started to get involved knowing that his job was going to be made that much tougher with replacement players representing the US against T&T. He tried to get the Federation and the Players to agree to push their deadline back another month to March 1, 2005. While the Players did not seem to mind, the Federation strongly rejected it, stating that Arena was not part of the negotiating team.
In other words, this is an A-B conversation and you can C your way out of it. Oh and BTW, Bruce, the January camp is cancelled.
In January, the Federation asked the Players to submit to binding arbitration where each side would be heard and the arbitrator would decide for one or another. With the Federation still seeking its previous stated offer and an enforcement of a no-strike agreement, the Players rejected it, feeling they had way too much to lose if they arbitrator ruled against them.
Each side sent out dueling press releases, each stating that the other was being unreasonable and saying that the impasse was a strike/lock-out depending on the author. By now, most US Soccer fans and journalists believed that we would be conceding 3 points to Trinidad & Tobago as the replacement players that Bruce Arena had brought into camp were simply nowhere near the quality of the full United States National Team.
The Players requested mediation which began last Thursday. The Players preferred this to the binding arbitration because there could be concessions made on both sides which would not have happened if they had agreed to the binding arbitration.
Friday night the sides were able to hammer out an interim agreement where the players would not strike for the rest of 2005 (nor be locked out) and would get a 38% increase in appearance bonuses. Further the Federation would agree to negotiate in good faith and pay the players retroactively back to the start of 2003 when a final deal is in place.
Predictably both sides are claiming this small victory for themselves. The players came down from their money demands and agreed not to strike while the Federation agreed not to lock the players out and put the retroactive agreement back on the table.
But there is really only one group of winners: Fans of American soccer who want to see their team at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Hopefully both sides will realize that when they go to the negotiating table to hammer out a final CBA for 2003 through 2006.