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MLS to use replacement referees for Week 2 as labor negotiations continue

Major League Soccer will play another weekend of games with replacement referees after representatives from the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) and the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) met in New York City on Wednesday and failed to reach an agreement in an ongoing labor dispute.

Following Wednesday’s impasse, PRO notified the PSRA on Friday that a previous week’s contract offer to the officials would remain on the table until midnight on Monday, March 11, adding that if that offer is not accepted and ratified, its next offer to the PSRA would include “less favorable terms in some areas,” according to multiple sources briefed on negotiations.

The second week of the MLS season starts on Saturday afternoon. PRO’s team of replacement referees, which includes college and youth referees and a large crop of officials who have experience refereeing lower-division games, handled MLS’ opening weekend with PRO and the PSRA unable to reach terms before the season’s start.

PRO — the organization that oversees professional refereeing in the United States and Canada and assigns referees to MLS matches — locked its officials represented by the PSRA out on February 18th after a pair of temporary extensions to the previous labor agreement between PRO and the PSRA expired and the PSRA’s membership resoundingly rejected the initial proposal put together by negotiators.


Explained: Why the new MLS season will start with stand-in refs

The Athletic obtained a copy of an email update that the PSRA provided its membership on Wednesday afternoon, which offered insight into the negotiations early in the day.

The PSRA, represented by a bargaining committee that includes current MLS referees like Chris Penso, Drew Fischer and TJ Zablocki, submitted a proposal that was identical to their first proposal with a few exceptions.

They included, according to the membership update: making sure membership would be paid retroactively back to Jan. 16, 2024, increasing wages and healthcare coverage and further modifications to travel flexibility and fare class. PSRA also proposed an increase to the likeness fee that its referees receive for commercial use of their image.

PRO, represented by a team that includes former MLS referees like Mark Geiger, Alan Kelly and Joe Fletcher, provided their response to the proposal after several hours of review, according to the PSRA’s update to its members.

“In joint session,” the update reads, “PRO representatives made a long statement criticizing, among other things, your negotiating committee’s decision to send (the first tentative agreement) through ratification to allow you to vote and have your voice heard on (it.) PRO then stated they needed yet more time to consider PSRA’s proposal and would not be providing a counter-proposal during the session.”

The next update came on Friday, in which PRO told the PSRA that the previous contract offer remained but would be rescinded and made less favorable if not accepted by March 11.

The PSRA and PRO were joined at the negotiating table by members of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), an independent government organization that works to help resolve labor disputes. Potential additional bargaining dates are being discussed by both parties.

PRO and the PSRA both declined to comment on Wednesday’s talks.

Both sides have accused each other of unfair practices during the lockout, with PRO filing an unfair labor practice complaint against the PSRA last week alleging that the referees’ union had made efforts to intimidate replacement officials. The PSRA, for its part, has filed complaints against PRO, alleging that the organization engaged in “direct dealing,” bypassing the union and attempting to sway union members directly. The union also alleged that Geiger sent a letter to union membership threatening a lockout and threatening inferior terms if the PSRA did not agree to PRO’s initial offer.



Replacement referees for opening MLS matches include youth, college, lower division officials

This story and headline has been updated to reflect that replacement officials will work for MLS’s second weekend. 

(Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

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