MLS and union start on path toward

MLS and union start on path toward
or MLS, the cost of doing
business — both
financially and
philosophically — is
about to go up.
For professional soccer
players in this country, the
value of an MLS career is about
to go up as well.
The players have unionized
and will be backed by the
Washington, D.C. legal firm
Sherman, Dunn, Cohen, Leifer
& Yellig, PC, which was formed
in 1947 and specializes in labor
law. They thus have the right to
bargain collectively as well as
to strike.
Formation of the Major
League Soccer Players Union
(MLSPU) formally severs ties to
the NFL Players Association,
which was chosen by the players to
represent them in the league's inaugural
season and in February 1997 filed a classaction lawsuit that took more than five
years to resolve (see timeline).
"You can go back and say this was right
and this was wrong, but I do believe this is
the right thing to do not only for the
players but for the league and for soccer,"
says Galaxy defender Alexi Lalas, who is
one of five players who serve on the
union's executive board. "I believe we still
have a long way to go in terms of
negotiation, and I'm not saying there
aren't going to be disagreements and even
heated arguments, but through it all there
will be a level of respect that was missing."
Feb. 13, 1997. The NFL
Players' Association files a classaction lawsuit (Fraser, et al vs.
Major League Soccer, et al.) in
Boston challenging the MLS
single-entity system and alleging
MLS and U.S. Soccer had entered
into a monopolistic conspiracy
when the federation designated
6 / Soccer America / May 19 & 26, 2003
salary has been frozen at $24,000 since
the inaugural season. There is no pension
plan or retirement plan for the players.
There is no grievance process. The
maximum salary has risen to $280,000,
but dozens of players have earned more
than that.
"The players have never really gotten
together to help the sport grow and have
a voice," says Wizards midfielder Chris
Klein, another member of the executive
board. "We're the only sport without a
collective bargaining agreement in this
country. We finally took it upon ourselves
to get this done."
Players would like a greater share of
merchandising and licensing revenues,
although those currently are negligible.
"You can't ask for money that isn't
there," says Lalas. "But when the league
grows and matures and those revenues are
significant, of course, we'll want our share."
The MLSPU has requested documentation of the league's accounting procedures
for salaries and adherence to the salary
cap, which is approximately $1.73 million
per team. Player salaries are paid by the
league. Since its inception, the league has
revealed little of its financial dealings
with players.
Under the league's single-entity
structure, only by moving abroad can a
player be a free agent as that term is
commonly interpreted.
MLS rights are retained even if a
player plays out his contract. He can
only move to another MLS team by a
trade or other process.
MLS as the country's sole Division I
professional soccer league.
April 19, 2000. Federal Count
Judge George A. O'Toole issues a
summary judgment that removes
the single-entity claim from the
Dec. 11, 2000. Jury submits
unanimous verdict that MLS and U.S.
Soccer did not engage in conspiratorial or monopolistic practices.
"If my original
team offered me
$30,000 and
another MLS
team offers me
$60,000, I
should be free
to take it," says
midfielder David
Vaudreuil, who has
retired after
playing seven
seasons in MLS.
"But the league
doesn't let you
do that."
Under one
league proposal
several years
ago, a player could
not be a free agent
within MLS until he
reached the age of 28 and
had played in the league
five consecutive years.
"That wasn't a
serious proposal,"
said Vaudreuil. "If
a guy like
DaMarcus Beasley
came into the
league at age 17,
he has to wait
11 years for free
agency? But we
thought it was just
the first step, so we
March 20, 2002. U.S.
Court of Appeals for the First
Circuit denies NFLPA's appeals
of the summary judgment and
jury verdict.
Oct. 7, 2002. U.S.
Supreme Court refuses to
hear players' appeal.
April 17, 2003. Formation
of the Major League Soccer
Players Union is announced.
To subscribe call 1-800-997-6223
collective bargaining
the players. It's their union, and they
run it."
The independence of the union may
come into question as it moves forward.
All of the five executive board members
and most of the team representatives
(one per team) are represented by
SportsNet, Inc., which is run by player
agents Richard Motzkin and Dan Segal.
Many national team players, including Landon Donovan, Josh Wolff and
Beasley are SportsNet clients. So is Lalas,
who serves on the executive board
with Donovan, as does Metros
keeper Tim Howard, D.C.
United midfielder Ben
Olsen and Klein.
A former
Alexi Lalas, Chris
Klein (left) and the
other three
executive board
members of the
new Major League
Soccer Players
Union are all
represented by the
same agency.
sent them a counterproposal, and never
heard back from them."
SPORTSNET. Said Jon Newman of
Sherman, Dunn, et al, whom the MLSPU
has retained as chief counsel, "It is an
independent union run and governed by
employee, Bob Foose, has been retained
as MLSPU assistant chief counsel. Foose
was required to divest all connection to
The rivalry among agents for clients
can be fierce, and several have privately
claimed players represented by SportsNet
receive larger salary offers from the
league as encouragement for them to stay
in MLS rather than aggressively seek
opportunities abroad.
Yet agents see the formation of any
union and implementation of talks toward
collective bargaining as a critical step.
"This has been a long time coming,"
says Ron Waxman, who represents several
dozen players. "I'm supportive of
anything that will help the players. What
we need is collective bargaining, and now
are in a position to do that."
The two sides are exchanging
documents in preparation for the first
formal discussions, which will take place
this month.
Quakes defender Jeff Agoos, who was
one of the spokesmen when the players
were affiliated with NFLPA, says, "We
need to put that behind us. For the
benefit of the sport, we've got to have a
dialogue with management. That's really
been lost for the last number of years.
Both groups have to be willing to
— Ridge Mahoney
May 19 & 26, 2003 / Soccer America / 7