MLS invokes clause; could lead to stoppage
LOS ANGELES - Major League Soccer and the union representing its players could be on a collision course toward a work stoppage after the league announced it was invoking a force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement the league and players reached in June.
A force majeure is a clause commonly added to contracts that frees both parties from liability or obligation in the event of extraordinary circumstances. MLS said Tuesday it would invoke the clause because of the ongoing impact of COVID-19, which commissioner Don Garber said cost the league $1 billion in revenue in 2020.
“MLS needs to address the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic and will engage in good-faith discussions with our players about ways to manage the significant economic issues we are facing,” MLS president Mark Abbott said in a statement.
The players union responded with a statement calling the league’s decision “tone deaf” and saying it discredits the sacrifices made by players and the “enormous challenges they overcame in 2020.”
The two sides, working in a rare spirit of cooperation, negotiated a five-year collective-bargaining agreement in February, but it was never ratified. So when COVID-19 forced MLS to shut down last spring, the league forced the union back to the bargaining table to negotiate another CBA, this time including a force majeure.
Invoking the clause means the two sides have 30 days to hammer out yet another CBA, the third in 12 months. Both sides are required to bargain in good faith and if no agreement is reached, a labor stoppage could result.
How that would impact the 2021 season, which was expected to start in early March, is unknown since the league has not released a schedule.
The largest source of revenue for MLS is game-day sales and sponsorships, which took a major hit last season when the league was forced to shorten its season from 34 to 23 games, the vast majority of which were played without fans. With the pandemic expected to keep fans away for most of the next season, the league’s request for yet another CBA was expected.
But the union argued its players have already compromised. The union said nearly 20% of MLS players tested positive for COVID-19 last season. The players also made $150 million in financial concessions, including a 5 percnt salary cut, a reduction in bonuses and the players’ share of revenue from a new broadcast agreement, and a one-year delay in planned salary increases.
The union agreed to those demands in June after the league told the union it was considering a lockout, a threat that angered many players. Bob Foose, executive director of the union, said earlier this month that invoking the force majeure would be a mistake and imposing another negotiation “would be very, very risky.”
The Premier League is reportedly considering a two-week pause to its season to address a surge in COVID-19 cases in England, according to the London Telegraph. Two games were postponed this week because of COVID-19, with last Monday’s game between Manchester City and Everton scrapped by an outbreak among Manchester City players and coaches and Wednesday’s Fulham-Tottenham match called off when several Fulham players tested positive.
In the latest round of testing, between Dec. 21-27, 18 of 1,479 players and staff members had positive results for COVID-19, the highest number this season.