Professional Soccer Referees Association - Through Unity, Strength

Professional Soccer Referees Overwhelmingly Reject Tentative Agreement

Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which provides officials for Major League Soccer, refuses to increase pay and improve working conditions in a way that reflects growth of sport, say dedicated officials, who also filed charges of unfair labor practices against PRO.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (February 17, 2024) — Today, members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement reached with the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), the organization that employs officials for leagues including Major League Soccer (MLS). With 97.8 percent of eligible members voting, the outcome of the vote was 95.8 percent ‘NO’ as to whether to ratify the proposed tentative agreement.

PSRA executive leadership believes membership‘s rejection was a result of PRO‘s economic package falling short of expectations, along with a lack of quality of life improvements, which the members needed to improve their working lives. Unfortunately, PRO negotiators failed to heed PSRA’s warnings at the table that the tentative agreement would fall short of membership expectations and face an uphill ratification process. PSRA members have also experienced additional frustration during the bargaining process due to unfair labor practices the union has alleged on the part of PRO managers, creating what PSRA refers to as an unfair playing field in terms of reaching a contract that fairly rewards the Officials for their hard work and dedication to the game of soccer.

“We live for this game, giving it 100 percent of our dedication, experience, fitness and ability,” Peter Manikowski, president and lead negotiator for PSRA, said. “The skyrocketing growth of MLS has significantly increased demands on officials mentally and physically, and as such has increased demands on both our professional and personal time. Our members are asking not only for fair compensation at a time when the league is reporting record growth, but also for the ability to take care of themselves on the road and at home to continue officiating at the highest level that this sport demands.”

PSRA officials working mainly in MLS have been under an agreement that was ratified in February 2019 and expired on January 15, 2024. Members twice voted for contract extensions to allow additional time for bargaining, in hopes of reaching a ratifiable agreement. Those extensions expired on February 12, 2024.

The resulting tentative agreement did not meet members’ needs, Manikowski explained: “Feedback from our members indicates the failed ratification was driven by issues with the compensation and benefits PRO was offering, as well as a lack of improvements to travel, scheduling and other quality-of-life issues.”

PSRA is committed to promptly returning to the negotiating table and bargaining with PRO to reach an agreement that appropriately values the immense contributions of officials to the sport of soccer.

MLS matches are set to begin February 21, 2024, with Lionel Messi launching his first full MLS campaign with Inter Miami, which plays at home in Miami against Real Salt Lake.

PSRA members are highly skilled and well-trained professional soccer referees. Any decision by PRO to lock out our members and utilize replacement officials who are not members of PSRA could have a substantial impact on the upcoming MLS season.

In 2014, PRO started the MLS Regular Season with replacement match officials, and their lack of familiarity and experience with MLS teams, players, and specialized rules created a detriment for the quality of the matches. MLS players and 29 teams are accustomed to matches being refereed a certain way, with special attention paid to dangerous tackles, head injuries substitutions and speed-of-play rules.

“This game evolves rapidly and play happens quickly,” Manikowski said. “We think replacement officials generally do not have the current experience and level of fitness required to do our jobs. The sport and everyone involved — players, coaches and fans — deserve referees who are the best in North America at knowing the MLS game and its current rules and applications.” PSRA is the certified labor union representing officials working matches in MLS, NWSL, USL Leagues and MLS NextPro, and is an independent association of referees licensed to officiate the game of soccer by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) or the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). PSRA comprises approximately 260 members, who are employed by PRO, the organization responsible for servicing MLS and other professional soccer leagues in the United States.

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