Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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MLS referees’ union votes against tentative CBA, prompting lockout days before season kicks off

The Professional Referees Organization (PRO) will lock out the MLS referees, effective 12 a.m. ET on February 18, PRO announced Saturday.

The news comes shortly after the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), the labor union representing professional referees in North America and Canada, announced its membership overwhelmingly voted to reject its leadership’s tentative agreement with PRO for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) via a vote of 95.8 per cent “no.”

Inter Miami hosts Real Salt Lake on Wednesday to kick off the MLS season. Barring drastic changes over the next few days, that match will be officiated by replacement referees. There is a full slate of MLS matches this weekend, the first of the 2024 season.

The Athletic reported on January 22 that the PRSA members voted unanimously to authorize a strike. The Athletic also previously reported the PSRA filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that PRO engaged in “direct dealing,” bypassing union leadership and communicating directly with PSRA members.

“We live for the game, giving it 100 per cent of our dedication, experience, fitness and ability,” PRSA president and lead negotiator Peter Manikowski said in a statement on Saturday. “The skyrocketing growth of MLS has significantly increased demands on officials mentally and physically, and as such has increased demands on both our professional and personal time.

“Our members are asking not only for fair compensation at a time when the league is reporting record growth, but also for the ability to take care of themselves on the road and at home to continue officiating at the highest level this sport demands.”

The previous CBA between the PSRA and PRO, the MLS-funded body that manages professional officiating in the United States and Canada, expired on Jan. 15. Leadership for both groups reached a tentative agreement last week, but PRSA members rejected it.

“Time has been of the essence to conclude a fair deal and move forward together with renewed positivity ahead of our 12th year of supporting the growth of the professional game in the United States and Canada,” PRO general manager Mark Geiger said in a statement. “The result of the membership vote is disappointing.”

In a statement following the news, MLS released a statement claiming that the CBA “would have made PRO members among the highest-paid soccer officials in the world”.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the officials have voted against the tentative agreement on a new CBA reached by the PSRA and the PRO,” MLS executive VP of sporting product and competition Nelson Rodríguez said in a statement.

“PRO worked for months and addressed all the issues that were raised by PSRA’s bargaining unit. It is also unfortunate that the PSRA rejected PRO’s offer for a mutual no-strike-no-lockout commitment, which would have allowed all match officials to continue working during ongoing negotiations.

“PRO has informed us of its contingency plan for the upcoming MLS season, which includes utilizing experienced professional match referees supported by veteran VAR officials. We are confident in the comprehensive plan they have put in place.”

PRO announced that the overall increases in pay for the first year included: 10-33 per cent for referees, 75-104 per cent for assistant referees and 15-100 per cent for video match officials, as well as increased match fees for both regular season and playoff games. The deal also included first/business class air travel for playoffs and MLS Cup throughout the deal.

PRSA said it is committed to promptly returning to the negotiating table. PRO said it remains committed to reaching an agreement with the PRSA.

Required reading on eve of 2024 MLS season

(Melinda Meijer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

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