What exactly did the the MLS Players Union gain by not striking last night?

Allow me to play Unfrozen Caveman Sportswriter for a moment when I ask, what purpose did the MLS Players Union have in mind when it decided not to strike last night? Of all the things I thought the union was going to have in its press release, that was at the bottom of my list, below the scenario I envisioned where, attached to the release, was a picture of Taylor Twellman crapping on Phil Anschutz’s headshot.

I even thought that perhaps events had overtaken the strike threat and that some quiet backchannel discussions were going to lead to an overnight agreement. But that didn’t happen either.

So now, I still don’t really understand what the union is thinking by not striking. The only positive to the move is the effect of pushing the bad PR of striking further down the road. That’s fine I guess, but if you’re serious about a strike, wouldn’t you have been prepared for that PR hit last night? The negatives, or at least the potential negatives for the union are much more obvious.

Not striking makes the union look weak, dumb and/or not unified. By walking right up to the precipice and then stepping back, it leads me to think that for some reason, the union never actually intended to strike and that it was all just posturing. Maybe it was all an empty threat. If so, my god, they’ve been played worse than the Indians in that whole Manhattan for some beads trade. If that’s the case, the owners should have the San Diego Chicken bring the union the reiteration of their final offer, just to slam the message home.

It’s also possible that the leaders of the union have overestimated the willingness of its rank and file to actually walkout. If MLSPU doesn’t think it has the votes to sustain a strike ballot, then it has brutally misplayed its hand. If this is the case, then the union should just quietly fire Foose, accept a deal that isn’t too long and regroup to fight another day.

Finally, let me ask you folks what you think. I am not an expert in labor negotiations. I’ve never worked in a union environment, nor have I been on any side of a CBA negotiation. I tend to think of all this through my Washington partisan zero-sum prism, which is that if one side isn’t winning something, that means it’s losing something. That’s why if there was a “win” here by the players by not striking, I think that’s why I am not figuring out what it is.

Finally, I think that I, and many others, have been guilty of making it sound like a labor stoppage implictly means the loss of a season. I think it’s easy to make analogies to the MLB strike and NHL lockout because those are still so raw in people’s memories, but even if the union does “sack up” and strike, that doesn’t guarantee the loss of the 2010 MLS season.


24 thoughts on “What exactly did the the MLS Players Union gain by not striking last night?

  1. The theory going around is that they are holding off on striking until a time when it actually worries the league. If they strike now, they basically lose money and the league doesn’t really need to do anything until mid-march.

    Some have also suggested that the players don’t want to cost the Crew a place in the CCL, which would likely happen if they were striking during their games against Toluca.

  2. um . . . how much of a strike can a bunch of guys making $15k really sustain? I guess Fosse thinks his people need some tough talk, but theys guys have NO leverage, unfortunately.

  3. The union is weak and dumb, and if they strike, how long can it last when many of the players can’t survive. This isn’t the NFL where they have a huge fund in case a strike goes a year…they can last all of 2 weeks tops…

  4. On Tuesday, there were reports indicating that the players were taking a strike authorization vote.

    If they had voted yes, the union would almost certainly have announced it, as that infinitely strengthens their hand.

    Instead, not one single solitary peep has been made about how it went.

    I don’t believe there can be much doubt as to why that is.

    As for them deciding to wait until later:

    With the league taking the month of June off for the World Cup, and early season attendance traditionally terrible anyway, the owners aren’t likely to even much care that they’re gone until July.

    And I have very serious doubts whether they can ever get most of the foreign players to strike. What the hell would they do that for?

    Weak economy. World Cup. Lack of solidarity.

    They’re busted.

  5. If you honestly think this has anything to do with “a bunch of guys making $15,” you either haven’t been paying attention or are just stupid.

    As far as what they gained, I read something (maybe from Kyle McC) that said they couldn’t officially take those kind of strike votes until after the CBA expired, which didn’t happen until they made a move like they did yesterday.

    I don’t think they really gained much from it, but it might have been a formality they had to go through within all the legalese. I still think the public airing of their official offer is the best move either side can make to exhibit a show of strength. Problem is, letting us know what is really going on could also be the worst move either side could make because it’s easier to call shenanigans on the idiocy that is happening.

    The reality is that when MLS players don’t have the overwhelming support of the people who already do follow the league, they really need to take a step back and wonder if what they are trying to accomplish is actually attainable.

  6. On the win/loss perspective, the players Union is in a lose/lose position, as is the League.

    If the Union issues a strike order, that means that they are forfeited preseason and opportunities for the Columbus Crew players to take part in the Champions League, something that hurts the players more than the League. So, in this case, the Union “wins” by losing less than they would if they strike.

    If you play out the strike scenario, if an agreement occurs before the season’s scheduled start, then one of two things could happen:

    1. The league keeps the schedule the same and the players hope what they’ve done during the strike is enough to start the season, likely increasing the likelihood of injuries and sloppy play. The players and fans lose out most here.

    2. The Union demands a preseason, causing the league to rescheduling more mid-week games; games during the World Cup; or reduce the number of games played. In this scenerio:

    (A) The players lose, because they’re not given adequate rest or do not get paid as much as they would have if they played a full season. Plus, a small handful of players would likely miss more than 4 summer matches because of their respective National Team commitments.

    (B) The fans lose because they’ll have more weekday matches which are harder for most fans to attend AND they’ll have to choose between the World Cup and MLS.

    (C) The league loses because it has to reissue the schedule, leading to more fixture congestion and lack of revenue from ticket sales and lack of “star power” due to WC absences.

    If an agreement is reached after the start of the season, then the second option above is the only choice, resulting in an unpleasant situation for everyone involved.

    So, it’s not that the Players Union gains anything, they just don’t lose as much.

  7. The CBA (article six) prohibits the league from authorizing or advocating a strike while the CBA is in effect. The CBA was in effect until midnight yesterday. So the players could not strike then. And it’s likely that the votes that were taken before that, if any, were straw polls and not formal strike votes. As in, Joe Cannon walks into the locker room, asks everyone to write “yes” or “no” on a piece of paper, then Joe emails the league and tells them the totals. This is useful information but not enough to authorize a strike.

    More than likely, there are strike vote procedures in the Union’s bylaws; they could well require secret balloting and the use of an independent vote-counter. It could take some time to get through that.

    Also, strategically, it wouldn’t gain anything to strike now, because canceling preseason probably saves the league more money than it costs them and the fans weren’t going to those games anyway. Not to mention it gives the league a month to sign replacement players. I hear Lee Nguyen is available…

  8. Having been on the management side of several labor negotiations, here’s my .02 without knowing the language in the players contract or what was actually offered

    They are either in the process of a formal strike vote. (I sure someone would be spilling the beans if this was really going on)

    Or more likely, that there are some deep divisions in the players union with some sort of struggle for control going on. We will hear in the next few days that someone is leaving to spend more time with their family, or taking a new job in Alaska working on player development.

  9. I don’t have a dog in the fight but it seems to me the players would gain some advantage with the league by striking the night before the season opening.

  10. Considering that the Indians were justing passing through the area when they were approached with an offer to buy it, I’d say they made off like bandits.

  11. I think that the players are over estimating their value in the public’s eye. If they strike, you can pretty much guarantee that teams like DC United, Houston, and San Jose will never get their stadiums built.

    Why would a locality agree to build a soccer specific stadium, when the state of the league is so tenuous?

    Both parties are weaker than they realize and both have overly high opinions of themselves.

    They are soccer players in the United States. MLS could disappear tomorrow and 75 – 80% of the population would either not realize it or not care.

  12. What sort of advantage would be gained by having almost all of the league fans hate them?

    It wouldn’t hurt the players directly, but it sure as hell wouldn’t help them.

  13. I don’t know… I can think of one or two players, who if they weren’t professional soccer players (if they strike, they wouldn’t be), I wouldn’t mind seeing them hurt in some way directly in response for their thuggish behavior on the field.

  14. Personally, I think the players are the ones with the power. Most don’t get paid that much money. They could probably find a job at Home Dept making more than they currently make. You realize that a good portion of employers pay recent college grads more than 60k (I work in HR, so I know that for a fact)? The pay is a joke, and if it is never changed, this league (and soccer in general in this country) will never prosper because talent will never come here (or stay here).

    If you think RBNY will be happy with allowing the players to strike, you’re crazy. They just built that brand new stadium. I can imagine there are a lot more owners out there that are dreading a strike.

    Some of these things that the players are asking for are not crazy. Soccer in this country will be in a position in the next few years to take huge steps forward. We’re looking at possible work stoppages in the NFL and NBA in the next couple of years. MLB has all kinds of issues with PEDs.

    I think US Soccer (you think FIFA is going to award us a world cup if 16 years after we hosted the last one with a promise to start a league, that the league is in jeopardy??)and MLS stand a lot more to lose in a World Cup year (when more people will be “into” soccer thanks to the WC), than any of these players do.

  15. This is a ridiculous statement. What type of jobs are you talking about here? I have a LOT of friends with good degrees that can’t get jobs at all or have to settle for ones that pay around 30k with crappy benefits. The job market is awful right now and no companies are running around throwing money at recent college grads. I believe the unemployment rate for the younger part of the workforce(18-25) is also a lot higher then the overall unemployment rate.

    You are acting like these guys with no necessary skills can just walk out and find 50-60k jobs and that just couldn’t be further from the reality of the job market in America today.

  16. The players would seem to gain an advantage over the league by striking the night before the season opening because the league (i.e. owners) have more invested and thus more to lose.

    The players risk the possibility of lost income but many of them are college graduates anyway. Yes, right now the unemployment rate is terrible but most of these guys aren’t going to be forfeiting millions of dollars by striking.

    League owners on the other hand have millions of dollars invested in all facets of the game. They have to worry about sponsorships, ticket sales, stadiums, etc.

    And as far as the players making bad public relations moves, why would they care?
    If you do the actual math, literally 99% of the population does not care about MLS. What have either the league OR the players done to demonstrate they care what the fans think about the CBA? Soccer is a business and both sides are about maximizing their best interests. If that ends up pleasing the fans, so be it, but that’s simply a by product of the business.

    I’m not going to pretend a strike wouldn’t agitate bigsoccer people but we would be the same people to be the first back in the stadia once the strike was over.

  17. Most players earn more than $75,000 a year. If they strike, that drops to $0. Suddenly, the whole “putting food on the table” and “paying rent and bills” things suddenly gets a lot more difficult.

    So what do the two-thirds of MLS players who earn more than $50,000 a year do at that point? Get another job at whatever salary they’re getting? Having spent four months unemployed as a software developer last year, good luck with that. And oh yeah, I’d love to be in the interview where a player who finds himself in sudden need of income tries to explain to a hiring manager that he’s dropping that job to go back to playing soccer as soon as the strike is over.

    So the player is going to have to find a job where they don’t care whether you’re there two days or two weeks or two months or two years. That’s right, a McJob. And if you’re part of the two-thirds of the players who earn more than $50,000, that’s going to be a significant drop in income.

    But hey, they’re not losing millions. They’ll be OK.

    And if that actually mattered, sports teams owners wouldn’t win almost every single strike and lockout outside of MLB. The NFLPA has been busted twice, in 1982 and 1987. The NBPA had to take the owners’ offer in 1999 because their membership was on the verge of revolting. And the NHLPA’s membership lost over ONE BILLION DOLLARS in wages and an entire season in the 2004-05 lockout before they capitulated and took the owners’ offer, including a salary cap, which they had previously rejected.

    All of those leagues’ owners had stadiums and arenas to pay for and sponsorships to worry about and they all won, simply because all of the financial hardship on them was much less than on their players. (BTW, this should show how fabulous the MLBPA’s record is. They must use Jedi mind tricks or something.)

    If the players piss off the fans, they make it that much easier for the owners to hire scabs and have the fans accept them.

  18. Opening night before the Sounders host Philly? 36,000 fans – some of whom made 12 hour drives to Seattle and others who flew to the PNW from Philadelphia to see the franchises first ever match – would be pissed. The players would take a massive PR hit.

    I agree that MLS owners have millions invested in the league but don’t forget as a group they have BILLIONS. They would simply wait the players out. Think Chad Barrett could find a job making $195,000 a year?

    And if the strike is a long one what do you think the salary cap would be when it is over? $2m per team? $1.75m? If the players strike – it ends badly for them.

  19. All I know is that I haven’t been asked to complete a payment on my season tickets. Usually by this time of year they start hounding me to pay the balance from the deposit I made back in December. This tells me there won’t be any events in April for which paid tickets are required.

  20. Well, let me add that I work in the NYC area, so the salary is a bit high considering, but it’s still more than some players get.

  21. In any disagreement between the rich (owners) and the poor (the players), I side with the poor. I favor more power to the little people, more freedom of movement, and more worker’s rights.

    It should be the same in soccer as it is in all walks of life, regardless of the sacrifices the company (MLS) has to make to stay afloat.

    I have been to 5 MLS Cups and I consider myself a BIG fan of MLS, but if the players strike, I will support them. And when the strike ends, I will return to games and continue to support my club.

    If the employees believe they deserve more rights and better working conditions for their job, and are willing to strike to get those demands, then I, for one, am willing to trust their judgment.

    Besides, when did you ever hear of a company that was being too generous to their employees?

    If you stop thinking with your passions and use your brain to think of this thing in terms of an employer-employee relationship, it becomes much clearer.

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