A new collective bargaining agreement has been tentatively accepted by both Major League Soccer and the Player's Union which means that the 20th season of the league will be able to kick off as planned this weekend. The deal is not one that will please everyone on either side but there was enough compromise from both sides to at least get a majority vote.
Considering that as of last night the players were voting strongly in favour of a strike (18-1 in favour according to Sebi Salazar of CSN) it was something that was very much in doubt earlier this week. Getting the deal done took a lot of work on both sides and it became clear that the league was not interested in a strike so they came back with an improved offer.
While most of the details of the CBA are not going to be available to the general public for some time (if they ever come out) there are a few key points that have already come out. Waking the Red has been in contract with several sources who are familiar with the negotiation and can confirm that the members of the MLS Player's Union voted on a deal on Wednesday evening and their was enough support for that vote to pass.
The key points of the new CBA are that it will run for five seasons and will include a form of limited free agency. The deal does not give the players the true free agency that they were looking for but the compromise that was struck is that players over the age of 28-years-old with 8 years of experience in the league will be eligible for free agency. Those free agents will also be subject to a cap on what sort of pay raise they can receive.
According to Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel players making under $100,000 would be eligible for an increase to 125% of their salary from the previous season, players making between $100k and $200k would be eligible for an increase to 120%, and players making over $200k a raise to 115% of their salary from the previous season.
The other big detail is that the league's minimum salary will be increased to $60k which is a significant increase on where it stood last season and will actually mean a raise for a large number of players around the league. That is certainly progress but at the same time will leave some wishing that it had been more.
Given that the players seemed to be holding a lot of leverage in these negotiations given the importance of this season for the league it is hard to call this CBA a clear victory for them. They did manage to get some concessions from the league and have made progress on a few key fronts but there is still a long ways to go if the real goal is to turn the league in to one of the top leagues on the planet in the next five years.
The other key detail that will likely leave a lot of the more educated fans feeling unsatisfied is that the salary cap is set for a 15% increase according to Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch. The would bring the salary cap up to roughly $3.5 million for the next season but a large chunk of that increase will be taken up by players who will now be due a raise thanks to the increase in the minimum salary. It is another small step in the right direction but it certainly means the training wheels are staying on for MLS as they work to continue to control some elements of spending despite a number of clubs proving they are willing to spend a lot more.
In the end, no one is going to be completely satisfied with this deal which is the best indication that it is a fair deal for both sides at this point in time. Compared to the deal that the players were forced to settle for in 2010 this one does feel like a win at least in the short term. They did not get a landslide victory but they made significant progress towards several key long term goals and that is not something to scoff at.
What this CBA does is set the stage for the next round of negotiations where players will now have a foot in the door on the free agency front and will have five years to prepare for a potential strike. What that will mean is getting even more unified, finding outside support, and significantly increasing their war chest. If they can do that a strike becomes more likely than it was this time around.
Avoiding a strike this time around seems to be the best thing for all parties involved. This season is set up to be a big one for the league and even a short strike would have dealt a big blow to the momentum that has been built over this offseason. With a few i's left to dot and t's left to cross it is now safe to say that the momentum can carry on through the first weekend.
We will provide updates on any further details as they make their way out to the public but for now lets just get excited about the fact that Toronto FC will be playing soccer this weekend. For that we all owe the likes of Joe Bendik and the other union reps a big thank you since they worked nearly round the clock the past four days to get this deal done in time to save the start of the season.