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USL Players Inching Toward a Union

As long as it’s not the Philadelphia Union. No one should want that.

Steven Goff, a long time soccer writer at the Washington Post, wrote today that USL players are exploring the possibility of unionizing, likely before the start of the 2017 season. It’s not terribly specific to Louisville City players, but I’d wager they’re involved.  As of right now, players in the league often play under contracts that only pay them during the season and pre-season for fairly low wages. According to Goff, most USL players are paid during the spring-to-fall season only, there is no minimum salary, and an above-average player is estimated to earn $2,000 a month, with some making $3,000 and more. That might seem like a pretty good deal to a twenty year old, but it’s hardly enough to live on for a whole year. Most USL players also are on their own for health insurance, not to speak of dental, 401k, and other benefits that a lot of us probably take for granted.

So a union is obviously going to benefit the players so they can collectively bargain with team owners for better wages, benefits, et cetera. However, theoretically unions aren’t good for a business’s bottom line. More wages and benefits for players means more cost to the teams, many of which are not making a profit in the first place. This, along with reported increases in USL franchise fees, will probably have the effect of slowing down the league’s white-hot expansion as costs rise. That could also be good, though, as the league has until recently struggled to weed out teams that don’t have the financial clout to survive.

Frankly, a union probably isn’t something that the league’s owners didn’t see coming, and it is definitely something that team owners should be prepared for once it happens (and it will happen). The only real concern I have is the inevitable grind toward work stoppages that occur when bargaining agreements between the union and owners stall out, like the MLSPU and MLS this past offseason. Those aren’t good for fans or the league, especially one as vulnerable as the USL. But it’s a part of sports in America, so we might as well adjust. Good for the players.