THE ROLE OF PLAYERS' UNIONS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO THE RISE OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
On January 31st, the NWSL, in conjunction with the NWSL player’s union, announced their first-ever collective bargaining agreement. The CBA will run through 2026 and includes important provisions which allocate more resources toward player compensation and well being. In a statement released last week, interim CEO Marla Messing referred to the CBA as a “historic moment for women’s soccer in the United States”, adding, “our owners are committed to providing the significant and unprecedented investment required to build and sustain a professional women’s soccer league that properly supports our players, both as professional soccer players and individuals.”
The CBA will raise the minimum salary (nearly 60% year-over-year) and secure benefits such as free housing, transportation, and 401k contributions. Additionally, the contract introduces free-agency for players who have 6 years of service, beginning in 2023. Teams are now required to provide sports scientists, sports psychologists, and sports clinicians for mental health support. Players are guaranteed a fixed season with start and end windows, 42 days of vacation, parental leave and optional mental health leave for up to 6 months. Lastly, the NWSL will put a minimum of $255,000 towards group license rights per year.
After a tumultuous year in 2021 (half of the NWSL’s head coaches were fired or stepped down amidst misconduct claims), the player’s union has been hard at work campaigning for an increase in player’s rights and overall investment towards athlete welfare. Collectively, the union launched social media missions such as #NoMoreSideHustles: a movement calling for increased player compensation in the wake of athletes having to work additional jobs on top of their soccer contracts. In response to the claims of abusive conduct, the NWSLPA began #NoMoreSilence: a lengthy letter which demanded thorough investigation into every coach, general manager, and owner in the league.
While it’s likely true that the player’s union’s push for action sped along the need for a collective bargaining agreement, it’s not to say that the CBA hadn’t been in the works for quite some time. In fact it was well over a year ago in September 2020 that the NWSLPA sent notification to the league, initiating the request for CBA negotiations. Negotiations did not officially begin until March 2021. It’s no question Collective Bargaining Agreements have been popping up more frequently in the soccer industry, even on the men’s side. While the MLS has had one in place for 18 years, the USL Champions league announced their first ever CBA this past September. Meanwhile, the Professional Footballers Association in Canada (a union made up of both male and female players) is still advocating for one. Though men’s and women’s soccer leagues across the world are in different stages of the push for CBA’s, one thing is for certain: the rise in Collective Bargaining Agreements would not be a possibility without the existence of player’s unions. Player’s unions serve many purposes, a general one being to amplify the voices of athletes within the league regarding fair and transparent treatment. In a world where we’ve recently seen the power of social movements such as Black Lives Matter, the need for players to have a platform is important now more than ever. Collective Bargaining Agreements will likely continue their growing presence in sports, and it will be interesting to see the intersectionality of player rights and gender equality, mental health, and more. That’s the power of strength in numbers.
Sarah Mullahy is a Suffolk University Law School, a J.D. Candidate, '23 and a current intern at Wilmelsport.