ALEXANDRIA, Va. (January 22, 2024) – Members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) are bargaining for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with their employer, the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which has thus far refused to appropriately recognize the immense contributions of officials to Major League Soccer (MLS) and the sport in general. In a resounding display of solidarity, PSRA members voted to authorize their union to call a strike if necessary, with 100 percent of participating officials voting ‘yes’ to authorize a strike based on alleged unfair labor practices by certain PRO managers – a move that could have implications for the upcoming MLS season.
“We knew the frustration levels were high, because these officials have not benefited from the growth of our sport and PSRA was forced to file an unfair labor practice charge to address alleged direct dealing committed by certain PRO managers,” Peter Manikowski, president and lead negotiator of PSRA, said. “PSRA officials are committed professionals focused on perfecting their craft. Yet, as the focus should be on bargaining toward a new collective agreement, PSRA has had to address PRO’s alleged unfair labor practices, which undermine the bargaining process.”
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 250 members, who are employed by PRO, the organization responsible for servicing MLS and other professional soccer leagues in the United States.
PSRA officials working mainly in MLS have been under an agreement that was ratified in February 2019. This agreement expired on January 15, 2024, and was extended, by Member vote, to January 31, 2024. While negotiations for a new agreement are ongoing, outstanding issues include compensation and benefits; scheduling, training camps, other quality-of-life impacts; and travel. If a new agreement is not in place by January 31, the upcoming season could be impacted by a possible work stoppage (lock-out or strike) as occurred in 2014. MLS matches are set to begin February 21, 2024.
PSRA members are highly skilled and well-trained professionals. Any decisions by PRO to bring in officials who are not members of PSRA could have 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 detriment for the quality of the matches. For example, in 2014, the error rate on key decisions skyrocketed for the three weeks of the lockout. 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.
In recent negotiations, PRO’s representatives have stated at the table, in no uncertain terms, that their “customer,” MLS, is not willing to pay materially more for officiating services. PRO has also stated, on multiple occasions, that PSRA needs to “get realistic” about its proposals. Meanwhile, MLS continues to celebrate its skyrocketing expansion, viewership reach and record-breaking revenues while boasting about and benefiting from the notoriety of recent outstanding performances of PSRA officials in the biggest competitions worldwide.
“Officials live for the game,” Manikowski said. “They are asking to be bargained with fairly and in accordance with the law. We know what fair looks like; this is what we do. Our members see this strike authorization as a way to blow the whistle on PRO’s alleged unfair labor practices.
“Our members are ready to exercise all legal options to protect the rights of officials everywhere – and by doing so, to protect the game we all believe in so passionately.”