MLS strike still a distinct possibility

BY foxsports • February 26, 2010

The deadline for Major League Soccer labor negotiations to produce a resolution came and went on Thursday and what we have learned is that neither side is close to accepting a new deal.

There was no work stoppage, no strike or lockout, as the union let the league Collective Bargaining Agreement expire last night. Does that mean MLS fans can relax and start making their plans for the start of the season a month from now?

Not quite.

The reality is that while MLS players aren’t striking yet, it has become clear that the only way the players union will force MLS into making concessions that they feel are crucial will be to strike.

Some are taking the fact that players have yet to strike is evidence that they don’t have the solidarity within the ranks to pull off the strike, but that’s hardly the reason we have yet to see the most drastic of measures taken just yet.

The reason a strike hasn’t happened yet is because there is no point in striking right now, in late February.

The union’s real bargaining power is in the threat it can pose to the bottom line of MLS owners, meaning the money potentially lost once a strike starts forcing games to be postponed and MLS begins to hemorrhage even more money than many owners already lose.

Striking right now wouldn’t hurt MLS owners, not with a month of MLS preseason remaining. If anything, a strike now would make MLS money in the short term because players wouldn’t be paid and teams wouldn’t be putting out money for pre-season preparations that don’t produce revenue.

A strike would obviously hurt the league in the sense that it would frighten fans and lead to some bad press, but the lack of a financial impact of a strike at this point in time would make it toothless.

A strike now would only hurt the players, who would stop getting paid, and would subject themselves and their families to life without insurance without even benefiting from the pressure owners would feel. In short, striking now would be counterproductive.

When should we expect the players to strike if MLS doesn’t change its tune at the bargaining table (assuming the sides return to the table any time soon)?

A strike a week before the start of the MLS season would make the most sense because it would put the pressure firmly on the league, which would suddenly have nervous owners from New York to Seattle eager to see a resolution before a stoppage started costing real money.

Do the players have the support within its ranks to have a strike? Players among the union leadership insist that they do and insist that a strike is an option.

Whether that is the truth or a bluff by a union running out of options remains to be seen, but the fact that we haven’t seen a strike kicked off yet should hardly be seen as evidence that a strike isn’t coming.

Do the players have a justifiable reason for striking? MLS insists that they don’t because the league has supposedly made several concessions in its most recent offers. Union reps insist the league’s proposals have been weak and disrespectful. Who can you believe?

Neither really, not without knowing what the exact proposals are, and we aren’t about to get that sort of full disclosure. Not when the sides are still locked in this labor impasse.

What we can expect is the player’s union to eventually strike. You won‘t find a single player who actually wants a strike to happen, but the players union has come to realize that it probably doesn’t have a choice if its serious about trying to force the league into new concessions.

A strike is the last thing anybody wants, but it could be unavoidable. That is unless the sides can get away from their current “we’re done negotiating stances” and re-start talks as soon as possible.

If they wait too long, we are bound to see a strike and MLS will have the nightmare start to the 2010 season nobody wanted to see.

Ives Galarcep is's newest senior writer who will be covering U.S. Soccer and MLS.

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