The players of Major League Soccer are preparing for the worst-case scenario when it comes to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement: a work stoppage.
The league as a whole has been discussing the possibility of and preparing for a stoppage for a year, MLS Players Association executive director Bob Foose said during a roundtable discussion during All-Star Week in Orlando. While Foose and three players from the bargaining committee all said a strike isn’t the goal, it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.
“We are ready for taking the step we need,” said Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who is also on the players association’s bargaining committee. “So if we need to make another stoppage we would do so because this is our future. So it's the future of the players. We are fight[ing] for that.”
The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players association ends on Jan. 31, 2020. There have been three CBAs since the MLSPA was founded in 2003.
Foose declined to share a specific deadline for negotiations, but said “typically the hard date is the first game of the regular season,” give or take a few days. He intimated that for the 2020 season, that first game is in late February.
“February will be crunch time if it's not done by then,” Foose said.
Many of the discussions surrounding a possible strike have included what players would stay in market, where they would live, where they would train, what would happen to the visas of international players, and so on. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who is also on the bargaining committee, said those types of discussions started “months ago,” and are constantly taking place among players in locker rooms all across the league.
Los Angeles FC defender and bargaining committee member Walker Zimmerman said ironing out those types of details make the players more comfortable about the facing a possible strike.
“We're preparing because we want to be together,” Zimmerman said.
Other than a possible work stoppage, the biggest topic of discussion was making travel easier on the players. In other words, making chartered fights the norm league-wide. In the current CBA, teams are allowed four flight legs on a charter per season. Additional chartered flights are possible, but they’re at the “sole and absolute discretion” of MLS, per the CBA.
But Foose made it clear that if the MLS wants to take the next step and become a league that players actively choose, it’s imperative that the travel conditions improve. He called it a “fundamental building block” to the league’s growth.
“If we're going to truly compete, if we're gonna be a league of choice, guys have to be flying charter if not every flight, pretty close, as fast as we can possibly get there,” Foose said.
Foose made the argument that having chartered flights was an issue related to athletic performance. Flying out of cities more quickly and on a team’s own schedule will reduce the time spent in airports, add more training days and lead to better recovery of players’ bodies, he said.
The exact additional cost of having every team in the league fly charter isn’t known, but Foose said it’s “a big number.”
“We're not pretending this is cheap,” Foose said. “It’s a significant investment.”
Even so, Foose is pleased with the progress that specific bargaining point seems to be making when the issue comes up in talks with the league.
“I think we’ve seen a significant shift ... in that the conversation shifted from whether there would be charter flights five years ago to when there will be all charter flights now,” Foose said. “So their willingness and their understanding that this is an issue that needs to be addressed has changed significantly.”