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Major League Soccer's Collective Bargaining Agreement Explained

Labor stuff can seem complicated. The MLS schedule hangs in the balance, unless a new agreement is reached. It's time to break it all down for you to make it easier to understand.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made recently about Major League Soccer's CBA. Many fans are wondering whether there will be a strike or lockout that could potentially wipe out a portion or the entirety of the 2015 MLS season. But what is the CBA? Why is it important? And what happens if the two sides don’t come to an agreement?

What is the CBA?

A Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is a written, legally enforceable contract lasting for a certain period of time between management and its employees, represented by an independent trade union. The MLS CBA is between Major League Soccer and the Major League Soccer Players Union. The MLS CBA determines working conditions for the league’s players, such as wages, player movement, etc.

What is single-entity?

Major League Soccer is structured as a single, limited-liability company (single-entity). Single-entity means either a standalone business or operating units within a business. For MLS, each club is an operating unit of the league. Each club has an operator (often referred to as an owner), who owns a financial stake in the league.

Why is there a MLS CBA?

From 1994 to 2004, MLS didn’t have a CBA. That changed with the landmark case of Fraser v. Major League Soccer. In 2002, Iain Fraser and several other players filed an antitrust suit against MLS, claiming that the league was illegally acting as a single-entity company -- specifically to suppress player salaries. While MLS won the case, it resulted in MLS players creating the Major League Soccer Players Union (MLSPU). In 2004, MLS and the MLSPU negotiated its first collective bargaining agreement.

Why are they negotiating a new CBA?

The current MLS CBA was signed in 2010 and expires on January 31, 2015. However, through an informal agreement, MLS and its players will continue normal business relations through March 6, the date of the first 2015 MLS game.

What does the league want?

Major League Soccer wants to keep the league’s single-entity structure, with a low salary cap and limited player movement. The league claims that raising the salary cap and allowing players free agency would create competition between clubs for players, increasing salaries to the point where the league would no longer be financially viable. Basically, the league wants to avoid the fate of the original North American Soccer League.

What does the players union want?

While many aspects are negotiated in the CBA, MLS players are looking for two specific things: free agency and higher salaries. Right now, MLS doesn’t have free agency, as players out of contract or entering the league must go through one of several mechanisms to join a new MLS team, none of which gives them have a choice of destination. The $3.7 million per team salary cap limits what MLS players can make. They want a raised salary cap that will allow players to make what they believe they are worth and a say in their next team.

What if they don’t come to an agreement?

Technically, they could still play the 2015 season without a CBA. In that case, the status quo would remain for the upcoming season. The other, and more likely, option would be a work stoppage. The players have been adamant they would be willing to strike if they don’t get free agency and/or a salary increase.

Where do they stand now?

The points of contention are the issues of free agency and the salary cap. While the players want the freedom to change teams freely and be paid what they consider a fair wage, MLS wants to remain in control of those aspects, arguing that the league and its teams would be unable to sustain the impending expenditures. Currently, the two sides seem to be far apart on a potential agreement with a little over a month remaining until the scheduled start of the season.

Keep in mind that it is not unusual for a league and players union to start out far apart. As with haggling over the price of goods and services or any other type of negotiation, each side starts with its ideal outcome and end up somewhere in the middle. It remains to be seen who takes a harder stance on what they say they want.

Stay tuned to The Mane Land for more news on the CBA and how it affects Orlando City SC.