After 15 years and Counting, the Major League Soccer Players Association is on the Ball

Note: September 29 is Union Night at the StubHub Center as the Los Angeles Galaxy face the Vancouver Whitecaps. Tickets include a free Union Night scarf. For Tickets, click here.

It wasn’t so long ago that professional soccer was practically in its infancy and the players felt the pinch.

Major League Soccer formed as an organization in 1996. Following the resolution of a lengthy anti-trust lawsuit, it became clear that the players needed to form a union.

Bob Foose, a transactional lawyer brought in to help form what would become the Major League Soccer Players Association (MLSPA), remembers “a vastly different world.”

“The league was not only young but going through a very much a rough patch,” recalls Foose who is now the MLSPA Executive Director.  “They had actually shut down a couple of franchises and were down to the low number of teams, and we were a newly recognized union trying to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) without a deadline. So, it took us 18 months to negotiate, which we weren’t necessarily anticipating, but it got us started. It got the framework established.”

How far has the MLSPA come in its 15 years? When it formed, there was no retirement plan, grievance system or licensing rights for the players. Some of the players did not have health insurance and others were earning under $1,000 per month.  Three collective bargaining agreements later, the players have added a grievance and arbitration system, increased the number of guaranteed contracts and now have the leverage to negotiate with their current teams when their contracts expire and use the re-entry draft to move within the league. MLSPA represents approximately 680 members, and the average player salary is well over $300,000.

“I think we’ve solved all the living wage issues or we’re getting close and starting to deal with more traditional sports issues like player movement,” Foose said. “It’s been a good ride.”

Between player representatives and the elected seven-player Executive Board, Foose notes that player “buy-in” to the union’s mission is extremely strong. The union and its members are heavily involved in charitable work and partnerships with nonprofits and philanthropic organizations such as Soccer Without Borders, the US Soccer Foundation and Urban Initiatives.

The L.A. Galaxy will hold Union Night on September 29 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Foosew called the promotion “absolutely fantastic.”

“From our perspective, anything that highlights all of the pluses that come from an organized work force is a positive,” he said. “I didn’t come out of the labor movement, but I have certainly grown into a true believer of the mindset that progress across the board comes when management and labor cooperate and talk through how business is going to be operated and employees are given an ability to be part of what’s happening.”

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