USL players ask league for labor recognition

Rochester Rhinos won the USL championship this season. 

Bill Streicher/Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

USL players have asked the league to recognize their players association after a year-long organizing effort.

Several players started the push to form a union earlier this year in order to engage in collective bargaining with USL. Those efforts yielded signed authorization cards from a majority of the professional players involved in the league, according to a USLPA release issued on Wednesday.

USLPA organizers have engaged a mediator to verify the extent of the support. Once the process is completed, USL must decide whether to recognize the union as the bargaining representative voluntarily or withhold its support until the USLPA petitions the National Labor Relations Board and the group stages an election next year.

"The organization effort represents the players’ desire to have a voice and a working relationship with the league," USLPA advisor Ted Philipakos said in a statement. "It should be emphasized that the proposed union gained majority support by promoting collaboration with the league rather than activism against it."

In accordance with the NLRB, any group seeking to function as the exclusive bargaining representative must file a petition and any other associated documents with its local NLRB office. It must show support from at least 30 percent of the current employees in order to file the necessary paperwork, according to the National Labor Relations Act.

The measure creates a new wrinkle for the rapidly expanding league. USL is expected to field 29 teams. As a component of a partnership with MLS, the group includes 12 reserve teams. The broad spectrum of clubs — including reserve teams, strong independent organizations and weaker sides with modest resources — and the wide use of loans from MLS sides creates vastly different experiences for players from team to team.

USL officials declined comment on the process to the Washington Post earlier this year after the efforts were first unveiled.

If the USLPA is eventually approved, then it would join the MLS Players Union as collective bargaining representatives. MLSPU formed in 2003 and negotiated each of the past three collective bargaining agreements with MLS. NASL does not have a designated bargaining representative.