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MLS, union: Let’s make a deal

Amid labor strife, focus on season

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / March 3, 2010

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Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said yesterday he expects the March 25 season opener to take place, despite an impasse in negotiations with the players’ union. MLS teams are preparing for the season while working under an expired collective bargaining agreement that both sides have agreed to honor.

“We will not lock them out, and we are confident they will not go on strike,’’ Garber said at a Soccerex convention in Manchester, England. “We will not make any decisions just to avoid a work stoppage. We’ve got to make decisions that will ensure the long-term financial success of the MLS, and I’m sure we will not make any decisions to prove a point.

“I don’t think any of our players want to go on strike, and we are taking their issues very seriously. The expectations are that the season will start on time, and the expectation is that we will reach agreement with our players.

“It’s conceivable, but my expectation is not to be negotiating an agreement an hour before kickoff. I would describe these as big-league problems. Years ago we had nothing to fight about, so we didn’t have labor issues. Now that the league is growing and there is a bit more at stake, the players want to see improvement in their salaries and their working conditions.’’

Revolution player representative Chris Tierney confirmed the players’ intention to continue performing but added that they would strike if demands are not met.

“It’s not like the players don’t want to play this season,’’ said Tierney. “But, just basic rights, we’re trying to get that. Players are willing to do whatever it takes to get those things. We hope there’s not a work stoppage, but we’re ready if it’s necessary.

“The union’s made a proposal we think is fair. If you look at other leagues around the world, we’re not asking for anything more than is really necessary to run a league.’’

MLS was set up (its first season was 1996) as a single entity in which teams share revenues and player contracts are controlled by the league. The MLS Players Union formed four years ago.

“When I came in the league, I signed a development contract for $12,000 a year, and that’s one of the issues,’’ Tierney said. “For guys living in cities on their own, $12,000 is not enough to survive as a professional.

“But what we feel more strongly about is contracts being guaranteed, so you can’t be released at any time with four weeks’ salary.

“I’m not in the negotiating room so it’s hard to say which is causing more backup than others, but we feel really strongly about it and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen and I think it will be a favorable outcome for us.’’

The Philadelphia Union are scheduled to play host to the Seattle Sounders in the season opener March 25. The Revolution visit the Los Angeles Galaxy in their opener March 27. Single-game tickets for Revolution games go on sale Friday (1-877-GET-REVS, ticketmaster.com, or 1-800-745-3000).

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report

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