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  • After a lengthy process, the U.S. women's national team players have agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer that will run through 2021.
By Grant Wahl
April 05, 2017

The labor impasse between the U.S. women’s national team players association and U.S. Soccer is over.

The two sides announced on Wednesday that they have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement in a five-year deal that will run through 2021.

“I am incredibly proud of this team and the commitment we have shown through this entire process,” said U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe in a joint statement released by the two sides. “While I think there is still much progress to be made for us and for women more broadly, I think the WNTPA should be very proud of this deal and feel empowered moving forward.”

Added U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati in the statement: “We believe this is another important step to continue our longstanding efforts to drive the growth of women’s soccer in the United States. This agreement helps to ensure the strength of the women’s national team, provide stability and growth potential for the National Women’s Soccer League, and over time strengthen the elite player development process at the grassroots level. We believe our continued partnership will ensure a bright future for our sport for years to come.”

The new CBA includes: A commitment from U.S. Soccer to pay the NWSL salaries for allocated players; a return commitment by the players to compete in the NWSL; a requirement for the improvement of NWSL standards; and the ability of the WNTPA to control group likeness rights for licensing and non-exclusive rights in sponsorship categories where U.S. Soccer does not have a sponsor.

The new CBA also provides: A significant increase in direct compensation and bonus compensation; enhanced “lifestyle” benefits for the players with respect to travel and hotels; per diems that are equal to those of the men’s team; and greater financial support for players who are pregnant and players adopting a child.

The separate wage discrimination complaint filed in March 2016 by five U.S. players with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency, remains in place. The EEOC complaint accuses U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination in relation to the money the federation pays to the U.S. men’s national team players.

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USWNT co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn told the Planet Fútbol podcast, released on Tuesday: “Apparently the EEOC investigation is in its later stages, and so we hope to hear their findings, hopefully soon. And from there, along with a CBA, we hope that gender equity will occur in this CBA and will benefit the player pool for many years going forward.”

On Tuesday’s podcast, Sauerbrunn agreed with Gulati’s characterization of what the women’s team was pursuing in a February Planet Fútbol podcast as “equitable” pay but not “equal” to that of the U.S. men’s team. Sauerbrunn noted that was because the salary structure the women’s players were seeking from U.S. Soccer—including payment for their club play, which the men don’t receive from the federation—was fundamentally different from the men’s structure.

“We’re trying to figure out where women’s soccer is going, so we may not have the same exact structure as the men,” Sauerbrunn said. “So equal isn’t the right word. It would be equitable, because we are asking for a different structure.”

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In the end, the labor impasse between the WNTPA and U.S. Soccer concluded without a work stoppage. In 2015, after winning the World Cup, the U.S. women’s players replaced their longtime executive director, John Langel, and hired Rich Nichols to represent them. Nichols took a harder line with U.S. Soccer in tandem with high-powered sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who represented Tom Brady in the DeflateGate case.

But in December 2016, after making almost no progress on a CBA, the WNTPA dropped Nichols and Kessler. In January, the WNTPA hired Becca Roux as its new executive director. The change in the players’ tone was palpable: They said they looked forward to getting a new CBA done with U.S. Soccer, which has now happened.

Ironically, the executive director who was dropped by the WNTPA, Langel, had a big victory recently representing the U.S. women’s hockey team in its labor negotiations with USA Hockey.

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