U.S. Soccer’s lawsuit against the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association seeks to answer a seemingly simple question: Do the two organizations have a valid collective bargaining agreement, or not?
The original CBA between the two expired in 2012. In March 2013 they signed a memorandum of understanding to govern their relationship going forward. But now the players want to dissolve that MOU, while U.S. Soccer believes it constitutes a new CBA that doesn’t expire for 11 more months.
When U.S. Soccer filed its lawsuit last week they argued that the CBA that expired in 2012 and the MOU signed in 2013 jointly constitute a new CBA. And among the pieces of evidence they mustered supporting this viewpoint is court testimony from former Players Association executive director John Langel, and an email to U.S. Soccer from his associate Ruth Uselton. In both of these instances, argued U.S. Soccer, the representatives of the Players Association agreed that there was a CBA in place. Open and shut case, right?
Today the Players Association, represented by famed sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, filed their response, and surprise surprise, U.S. Soccer’s case looks a lot weaker than it did yesterday. The Players Association argues that U.S. Soccer’s filing is,“filled with blatant inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and misleadingly incomplete quotations from the relevant record,” and I can’t say I disagree.
Here are the Players Association’s arguments for why there is no valid CBA.
Here is the relevant note from those financials, which comes from a document created two-and-a-half years after the signing of the MOU (emphasis mine):
The players on the Men’s and Women’s National Teams are covered by collective bargaining agreements (“CBA”). The Men’s National Team CBA expires on December 31, 2018. The Women’s National Team CBA expired on December 31, 2012. There is currently a signed Memo of Understanding in place while the full details of the new Women’s National Team CBA are being negotiated.
The 2013 MOU—which the Players Association writes was “negotiated in haste”—mostly lays out the terms for the creation of the NWSL, as well as improvements in salary, per diems, bonuses etc. U.S. Soccer contends that this MOU amends the old CBA, and all unmodified terms (including the no-strike clause) remain intact through December 31, 2016. Except, nothing in the MOU actually states this.
As the Players Association writes, if U.S. Soccer wanted to, it would’ve been easy enough to insert such a clause into the MOU:
The MOU also does not contain a no-strike clause, even though it would have been easy to insert one. Similarly, the MOU does not contain a provision incorporating the prior terms of the 2005-2012 CBA, except to the extent modified, although it would have been equally easy to add.
On the day the MOU was signed, Players Association lawyer Ruth Uselton sent an email to U.S. Soccer. U.S. Soccer’s lawsuit quotes part of this email while arguing that the Players Association knew there was a new CBA in place:
As we previously agreed, the general principle we are working under is that the items we have not specifically covered in the Memorandum of Understanding would remain the same as under the prior CBA, but with appropriate increases/adjustments/changes.
Curiously—though U.S. Soccer’s lawsuit included 15 exhibits—Uselton’s email was not one of them. And the Players Association’s filing makes clear why. The very next line of her email flatly contradicts U.S. Soccer’s argument:
We will address the specifics when we get to drafting the new CBA.
In an unrelated case involving the men’s national team, former Players Association executive director John Langel had the following exchange about the women’s team:
Q. And as I understand it — correct me if I’m wrong — the memorandum of understanding has certain financial – made certain financial changes, but other than matters specifically identified in the memorandum of understanding, the terms of the expired CBA the parties have agreed will continue to control?
But as with Uselton’s email, according to the Players Association. U.S. Soccer left out the very next exchange from the deposition transcript:
A. But we’ve already agreed that the terms [of the prior CBA] don’t control in certain circumstances.
The first big decision for the judge to make is whether to grant an expedited hearing. U.S. Soccer wants one as soon as possible so that (ideally) the judge can rule that a CBA is in place, and thus prevent any sort of strike from the players before or during the upcoming NWSL season. But the Players Association, who gave notice 44 days ago and believe the MOU expires on February 24, doesn’t believe U.S. Soccer is entitled to one, and thinks the currently scheduled April 4 status conference should stand.
You can read the Players Association’s full filing here.
Photo via Getty