United Soccer League players unionize, prep for contract negotiations
Tom Heinemann. | Darryl Dyck / AP via Canadian Press

America’s working class is getting squeezed through the political ringer. Bad economic policies from the Trump White House coupled with a personal trade tariff war against China has left Midwest farmers struggling to get by—despite Trump’s federal tariff assistance. And yesterday, GM announced it would be shuttering five plants, leaving close to 14,000 union workers jobless.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) plans to challenge GM’s decision, and the coming UAW-GM labor battle will give us a glimpse as to why unions in the workplace matter now more than ever.

As companies grow, expand, and see an increase in profit, the needs of workers are shifted to the lowest tier and often go ignored, while the need to organize rises exponentially.

It’s exactly that type of growth that led United Soccer League (USL) players to organize.

This morning, the USL formally recognized the USL Players Association as an independent union representing players in the U.S. second division, USL Championship, one division below Major League Soccer (MLS).

“We look forward to working through this process with the USLPA and our team owners, and we are confident that our league, our clubs, our players, coaches, and our fanbase will all be stronger as a result,” said USL Chief Executive Officer Alec Papadakis. “In many ways, this is simply the next, natural step in the evolution of building a great and enduring professional soccer league,” read the league’s statement.

Both sides are expected to enter contract negotiations soon and are hopeful a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will be reached before the season starts in March 2019.

A key issue for players at the bargaining table will be establishing minimum salaries.

The USLPA Executive Committee—Tom Heinemann, Trey Mitchell, and Connor Tobin—issued a statement following recognition:

“Today is a historic day in U.S. soccer history with the USL’s recognition of the player-organized USLPA. We see this as a significant step forward in the continued development of both the USL and the US soccer landscape. We are extremely grateful to the players for designating the USLPA as their bargaining representative and look forward to communicating with all players about the next steps in this process. Additionally, we look forward to partnering with the league to not only improve conditions for all players but to grow the stature of the league and the fan bases across North America.”

North Carolina FC defender Tobin is hopeful that the union’s formation “will be productive for both the league and players” according to The Washington Post.

The “player-driven” organizing drive began three years ago during the 2008 season.

The powder keg moment, according to Tobin, was last year’s departure of the lower-tier North American Soccer League that left many players out of work.

The union will represent Championship players only, excluding those who are on loan from MLS clubs. USL players received guidance from the MLS Players Association and enlisted a Boston law firm during their formation.

The USL Championship League began its inaugural season in 2011; the United Soccer League formed in 1986 and is sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. As of 2018, 19 USL teams are affiliated with MLS teams and every MLS team, except Orlando City SC, Minnesota United FC, Columbus Crew SC, and New England Revolution, has a USL affiliate team.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.