The Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiation deadline day, already extended twice, arrived today. With next to little progress being made toward a resolution this week, since both sides went public with their arguments over the prior weekend, the real possibility of a work stoppage for Major League Soccer seems on the horizon. At least for the time being, as announced by both sides in the negotiations, the preseason will continue as planned.
At just after 2 p.m. this afternoon, the executive director of the MLS Players Union, Bob Foose, announced that there will not be a third extension to the existing CBA. In a prepared statement he outlined the specifics:
"Effective at midnight tonight, our collective bargaining agreement with MLS will expire," said Foose. "While we expect that negotiations with MLS will resume at some point, there simply hasn't been enough progress made in the negotiations to date to warrant an extension of the old agreement. We have advised our players to keep working for the time being, but as of Friday they will be doing so without a CBA. In the meantime, all options are being considered as the process continues. We are completely committed to forging real changes to the way MLS players are treated."
Earlier this afternoon, I had the chance to talk with the San Jose Earthquakes player representative to the union, goalkeeper Joe Cannon. I asked him to distill down the issues that are most important to the players in these negotiations, and whether the overriding issue was one of free agency within the league.
"I don't think free agency, per se, is what we are asking for," explained Cannon. "I think guaranteed contracts, unilateral contract options, and some sense of free agency are what we want. I think the offers we have made to the league don't really present a challenge to the single-entity structure. We feel that within the confines that the system is currently run that we're pretty much asking for just those three basic rights.
"MLS is going to paint the situation one way and we are going to paint it another; you are going to have to decide what you believe. But it is very encouraging that the players are sticking together, and right now we are really unified toward getting the basic player rights that every player around the world gets."
When pressed on the issue of whether the union's demands would threaten the legal structure of MLS, Cannon elaborated further. "Everyone wants to know how the league is run. Even the fans, from their point of view, should feel that the league needs to be more transparent about their rules and the way they do things with drafts and player movements. Their policies seem kind of eerily tilted in some ways.
"What we are asking for comes from within the confines of the league's system. We don't feel it challenges at all what the league is doing. What it comes down to for us is basic rights. For it to be painted as just an issue of free agency is a big mistake."
Meanwhile, Major League Soccer has released its own statement on the matter:
"We have told the Players' Union that the League does not plan to lock out the players and we are prepared to begin the season under the current CBA while we continue to bargain to reach agreement on a new CBA.
"We have listened to the issues raised by the MLS Players Union and the League has made detailed proposals that have addressed these issues, including in the areas of economics, guaranteed contracts, options, and the ability of a player to move to another MLS Club if he is released by his current Club. These proposals, which represent substantial changes from the current CBA, will significantly increase our spending and provide substantially more rights to the players."
With both sides continuing to illustrate the same key issues, a new CBA will require some level of compromise from the league and the players. Without detailed accounts of the proposals from either side, it is very difficult to render judgment on which side has the more sympathetic argument at this point. At the very least the preseason will continue, but until when does the frustration from the players or the league at not having an agreement become too large a distraction to overcome. And when does the labor dispute distract MLS fans from fully investing their support toward the on-field product. As Cannon states, it all depends on who you believe.