Thursday, December 29, 2016

U.S. Women's Soccer CBA Negotations Take an Interesting Turn

We awoke this morning to the news that the U.S. Women's National Team has parted ways with its chief negotiator, Rich Nichols, three days before its collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation is set to expire.

Why and why now are relevant questions unanswered by the Women's Player's Association in its terse announcement, which merely says that Nichols will "no longer serve" as counsel to the Association, says that it is "focused on" productive conversations with U.S. Soccer regarding "our future" and looks forward to the upcoming NWSL season and an international women's tournament next March.

That immediate future will apparently proceed under the current CBA, which expires Saturday. Neither side has given the required 60-day notice of termination of that agreement,  after which either a work stoppage or a lock-out would be permitted.

Nichols has been a ferocious advocate for the women's team in negotiations with the Federation and by all appearances was the driving force in the wage discrimination complaint of five prominent players filed with the EEOC earlier this year, the defense of the Federation's suit that sought to impose the terms of an earlier CBA which forbid the players from striking before the Olympics this year (in which the Federation succeeded), and presumably in the players' public relations onslaught regarding their demands for "equal pay."

While meddling politicians and vacuous media outlets have taken up the women's team's call, as I and others have explained in the past, equal pay in the context of national soccer teams is not as simple as paying everyone the same salary or bonus or even paying equal amounts to the teams as a whole. And the EEOC complaint could, in fact, simply lead to further pay disparities in the women's professional game or the death of the women's professional league in the U.S. 

It seems likely that during negotiations (or perhaps because of the absence of negotiations) regarding a new CBA the players reached the conclusion that Nichol's approach was counterproductive to striking a bargain. Nichols has certainly raised the bar for the next counsel in terms of his zealous advocacy of the women's professional game, but perhaps a skillful negotiator and someone more willing to compromise is needed to bring the two sides together.

Certainly there's been nothing said publicly to-date by the Federation or its President Sunil Gulati to suggest that the Federation is not interested in trying to reach an agreement that does not compensate the national team players at a rate commensurate with their male counterparts, keeping in mind the revenue that each team has generated on a historical basis and U.S. Soccer's financial support for the NWSL.

Oh, but wait. There is one women's national team member who has cried foul, complaining that the Federation is "putting pressure" on the women to strike a deal. Anyone care to guess who that player might be?

Equal rights champion Hope Solo at her arraignment on
domestic violence charges (photo from

That's right, Hope Solo. In a blog post yesterday Solo expounded on her self-proclaimed role as a champion for equal pay and takes a shot at the Federation and Gulati for "putting pressure on the players" and "trying to divide and conquer us."

To which I say: go figure. One side of a negotiation is trying to use leverage against the other? Say it ain't so, Solo! I suppose the EEOC complaint and the players' implicit threat of a strike prior to the Olympics (which caused the Federation's ultimately successful lawsuit) were not leverage, or attempts by the players to put pressure on the Federation to strike a deal?

Posturing aside, one has to wonder if the timing of Solo's post isn't an indication that she is not on-board with her fellow team members and litigants regarding Nichol's approach and was her (indirect) protest against his dismissal. In other words, Hope is the true champion of women's rights and the others are not. Certainly wouldn't be the first time that she willingly distanced herself from the common good.

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