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USSF ‘reluctantly’ turns to court over USWNT CBA

Carli Lloyd and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that it had filed a lawsuit against its women's national team. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Carli Lloyd and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that it had filed a lawsuit against its women’s national team. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

U.S. Soccer announced on Wednesday that it has “reluctantly filed a lawsuit in federal court” arguing the existence of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its women’s national team.

U.S. Soccer said in a statement that a CBA has been in place since 2013 and will expire on Dec. 31, 2016. Richard Nichols, general counsel for the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA), has previously contended that there is not a new CBA but a memo of understanding (MOU). An MOU is an agreement between parties to continue operating under terms of the last CBA in lieu of an actual new contract.

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It was announced in March 2013 that a new CBA had been finalized, but revealed later that year that it was never signed. U.S. Soccer contends that there is a CBA in place and feels it is necessary to file a lawsuit to prevent women’s national team players from striking. CONCACAF Olympic qualifying kicks off next week and the NWSL season is just over two months away.

“U.S. Soccer felt it necessary to take this course of action after Richard Nichols, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Women’s National Team Players Association, notified U.S. Soccer that he does not believe there to be a current CBA, a position which would allow the team to take labor actions on and after February 24 – a view inconsistent with the negotiating history and directly contrary to the position of the prior Executive Director who actually negotiated the current agreement,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement.

The statement continued: “While unfortunate, we believe taking this action provides the parties with the most efficient path to a resolution, in an effort to not jeopardize the team’s participation in any competitions this year, including the 2016 Olympic Games. Obtaining a prompt resolution on the validity of the current CBA will allow both parties to focus on continuing negotiations in good faith on the next CBA that would start in 2017.”

U.S. players decided not to play a scheduled game against Trinidad and Tobago in Hawaii in December, citing unsafe field conditions. The field was artificial turf, a point of contention throughout the year as the 2015 World Cup was the first — men’s or women’s — senior World Cup not played on natural grass. U.S. players, joined by dozens of others from around the world, claimed gender inequality but couldn’t build enough of a legal case against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.

The strike against Aloha Stadium’s turf wasn’t just about a playing surface, as I wrote on NBC SportsWorld; it was about equality and the looming CBA fight.

“The time has come for it to evolve,” Nichols told me in December. “The time has come to put the sport on a level playing field in all facets of the sport and in all facets of the business of the sport.”

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