Collective bargaining agreement negotiations are rarely pleasant experiences, but for the MLS Players Union, the past week’s negotiations with Major League Soccer left a bad taste in the mouths of the players and a lot of trust to rebuild.
“What we were shown from the league frankly wasn’t good enough,” Nashville SC defender Daniel Lovitz told local media. “It was an insistence on making the discourse adversarial. It was disrespectful at times. It felt like we weren’t really trying to get a deal done. We didn’t expect it to be nice by any means. But the flow of information, the way things progressed, especially within the last week, was unacceptable.”
After negotiations between the players and league stalled over proposed pay cuts for the rest of the season, MLS responded by threatening a lockout, which would stop pay and healthcare benefits to players and their families.
Unsurprisingly, players weren’t happy.
Lovitz shared their sentiments.
“We hope that in time the wounds from this process heal, but it’s really tough to hear the league say that they are interested in using the partnership between the league and the players to help grow the league into what they want it to be, when they continually show us what they think of the partnership that we share.”
Financially, MLS is hurting. The forced break due to COVID-19 will cost the league $1 billion, according to MLS commissioner Don Garber. After the month-long Orlando tournament, the hope is to resume some form of the regular season, but as the country struggles to control the coronavirus pandemic, fans likely won’t return to stadiums anytime soon. That’s a massive revenue loss for a league that depends on ticket sales and other match-day revenue to fill out a major chunk of a budget.
“Labor negotiations are never easy, and they shouldn’t be,” Garber said on a conference call with national media. “The labor movement should not be about making things easy. They should be difficult, so that they force both sides to ensure that they’re doing everything possible to not leave anything on the field and address everybody’s concerns.”
Players understand the position the league is in. But they also are disappointed in how the league handled negotiations.
“I’m exhausted. I can only imagine the executive board and the leadership of the PA, and some of the prominent people on the league’s side. This has been a terrible, terrible situation to try to navigate,” said Lovitz. “It’s a scary time. We understand that emotions were involved – they certainly were on our side of the camp. But at the same time, we were all operating in good faith, or so we thought… I hope those wounds eventually heal. They certainly wont soon.”
The players are moving forward, and are ready to get back to training and playing meaningful matches. They have a new CBA in place through 2025, with a much larger share of the TV rights deal going to players. Their long term deal is in place, and with plans for the Orlando tournament nearing finalization, the short term picture is becoming more clearer. But according to Lovitz, the league has a lot of work to do to regain the full trust of its players.
“Actions speak louder than words. I don’t care what Commissioner Garber said earlier. When the time comes and you have to act, that’s what you’re defined by, and we were shown their true colors in that moment.”