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MLS Locks Out Union Referees

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO), the company created by Major League Soccer (MLS) owners to employ its referees, announced today it will lock out its referees for the start of the season because the collective bargaining negotiations with the union have not been completed. Instead, the league will use replacement officials this weekend instead of working with the union to iron out the remaining contract disagreements.  

As Steve Taylor, the vice president of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), told ESPN:

As chair of the negotiating committee, I am deeply saddened by PRO and Major League Soccer’s decision to lock out its officials in advance of the beginning of what could be a historic MLS season….PSRA has worked tirelessly to reach an agreement, however we have been met with resistance since the beginning, being forced to seek relief from the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] on charges of bad faith bargaining and management threats against our officials. Those charges remain pending.

Instead of using the MLS-trained unionized professionals, the league will deploy retired refs, refs from amateur leagues and, in the spirit of outsourcing, refs who work overseas. ESPN reports the league made their decision after the PSRA voted 64–1 to empower its leadership to call a strike if they deemed it appropriate.

The union is currently seeking assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which negotiated the 2010 agreement between the MLS and the MLS Players Union. The PRO has a history of bargaining in bad faith with the PSRA. The players association has filed two grievances with the NLRB, accusing the PRO and the MLS of refusing to negotiate with the union and of threatening “10 referees with reprisals if they continued to engage in union activities.”

If you recall, the NFL employed the same tactics two years ago to horrible results. After a three-month lockout generated a large outcry from fans upset by the blown calls and shaky officiating, the billion-dollar National Football League (NFL) industry agreed to the current collective bargaining agreement with the NFL referees.

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