The National Women's Soccer League, which is in its fifth year, is one step closer to having a union for players.
While players on the U.S. women's national team have their own union and are allocated to teams in the U.S. Soccer-backed NWSL, there hasn't been any similar representation for non-allocated players. But on Monday, the NWSL Players Association announced it had been approved by "an overwhelming majority" of non-allocated NWSL players in a league-wide vote to help "advance continued improvements in women's soccer."
So what exactly does the formation of this new group mean for players and the league?
Well, it is not a union with legal representation that can engage in collective bargaining negotiations but it is now the closest thing the league has for non-USWNT players. It may end up being an important first step toward eventually establishing an NWSL union, according to FC Kansas City defender Yael Averbuch, who led efforts to establish the NWSL Players Association.
"Eventually we do need a union, so this will build the backbone from which the union can be born, but we dont have a timeframe on that," Averbuch told FOX Sports. "The main objective is to have a very positive voice and to continue to communicate well with the league and the allocated players on how to make the NWSL an awesome product. There's not a specific plan to form a union, but this will eventually become a union."
The NWSL continues to face a lot of decisions that affect the standards for players, especially those who are non-allocated, that have led some players to call for a players union to be formed. Minimum salaries, which are drastically lower than the salaries for USWNT players, have been the biggest talking point since the league started in 2013, though they saw a huge bump and were doubled in this recent offseason. Minimum standards for facilities and medical treatment have also been points of contention.
But the Players Association's primary focus, at least for now, is on communication and promoting the strengths of the league, which is the most successful attempt at a professional women's soccer in the United States yet. Players had good communication with Jeff Plush, the commissioner who left the league in March, and they want to ensure that continues, Averbuch said.
"Our intention is 100 percent positive," Averbuch said. "A lot of times people think of players organizing to make demands, but right now we intend to work with everyone. We all have the same goal from the owners to the all players, allocated and non-allocated, to everyone in the front office and U.S. Soccer."
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Reached for comment, the NWSL issued the following statement to FOX Sports: "We respect the players right to organize and form a players association, and look forward to establishing a relationship with their leadership that will serve the league, the players and our fans alike."
The previous women's pro soccer league in the U.S., called WPS, did have a players union, but the league folded after three seasons. The NWSL, the third women's professional in the U.S., is the first one to surpass three seasons as it is now in its fifth season. But as the league continues to find success, especially with a broadcasting deal with Lifetime to acquire an equity stake in the league, fans and players alike continue to push for better standards and salary, which translate to more expenses.
Under the new NWSL Players' Association, which players have discussed forming for more than a year, each club in the league now has two designated representatives with one alternate. The association will eventually select a president, vice president and other officers from the player representatives.
The group sought guidance from Bob Foose, the executive director of the MLS Players Union, on how to lay the groundwork. Foose has been with the MLS union since it was founded in 2003, seven years into MLS's existence.
While the NWSL Players' Association is not a union, it's clear players are hoping the group will be a precursor to a union. Every major American sports league has a players union and, for a young league like the NWSL, getting closer to that may be the surest sign of progress yet.
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