Updated: Jul 21, 2022
To say the world of sports and labor law often intersect would be an understatement, and in its current state, you may think the MLB lockout is the biggest story sitting at this intersection. But by the beginning of February, you may be incorrect. The NWSL preseason is set to start on February 1st, and it now appears the players will not report to their clubs if a Collective Bargaining Agreement is not in place. If this were to occur it would be the league’s first work stoppage. The Player’s Association hopes that with less than two weeks before the preseason starts, this will help push the league to figure out the details.
The NWSL was established in 2012 and had its first game on April 13th, 2013. Interestingly, the league has operated for nine years without a collective bargaining agreement to this point. CBAs are usually an integral part of any sports league, from the WNBA to the NFL. So, it is evident that the player’s frustrations about not having an agreement are not without merit. Negotiation of the league’s first collective bargaining agreement was first announced in April 2020, but over a year later, there is still no agreement. Without such an agreement, the players feel as though they are being left in an uncomfortable and insecure position. So, the players rightfully want to ensure the league takes steps towards improvement before providing their labor. Especially after a tumultuous 2021 season in which the league saw consistent, valid criticism.
A point of further frustration stems from the fact that through October, none of the twelve-team owners had attended a single bargaining session, according to the Executive Director of the NWSL Players Association, Meghann Burke. Meanwhile, players have participated in every bargaining session, with one session having more than 25% of the players attend. To this point, there has been agreement on certain issues, but certain major points remain in contention.
With neither side claiming to have reached an impasse withholding their labor or striking is the next option on the table for the players. The league is young, and some may fear that the league would be unable to recover from a strike properly. But there are three reasons why now may be the players and the players association’s best opportunity to pressure the league through a strike.
The public support for the players is at an all-time high. So, if they strike, the “court of public opinion” would likely be in their favor.
With a long preseason ahead of them, there would still be hope that a deal could be made, and the strike wouldn’t affect the regular season, which doesn’t start until May.
In a more recent development for the league saw that the U.S. Soccer Federation would no longer be paying USWNT players NWSL salaries. Because of this, USWNT stars such as Megan Rapinoe are allowed to join the NSWLPA for the first time in league history. Opening the strike to have stars and new players alike join together.
Both sides likely prefer to get a deal done without disrupting the 2022 season. But the point remains that this may be the player's first opportunity to profoundly change what it means to be an NWSL athlete—ultimately creating an unprecedented opportunity to put pressure on the league for a meaningful change!