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US Soccer Deal Bolsters Equal Pay Push in Collective Bargaining

May 19, 2022, 1:30 PM

A landmark equal pay agreement with the United States Soccer Federation has the potential to help workers across sectors achieve pay equity.

The deal announced Wednesday will happen through new collective bargaining agreements with both the men’s and women’s players associations. The CBAs, which run through 2028, will achieve equal pay “through identical economic terms,” the federation said.

The agreement is the first of its kind in the industry, according to Arianna Scavetti, a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

“The hope is that this will inspire federations around the world and FIFA to do the same and push for equal pay for women athletes more broadly,” said Scavetti, who drafted an amicus brief on behalf of the associations in the years-long court battle over female soccer players’ pay.

The agreements are emblematic of the new way employee unions are approaching bargaining, said Sarita Gupta, vice president of U.S. programs at the Ford Foundation and co-author of the book “The Future We Need,” about using CBAs to push policy priorities.

Since the start of the pandemic, workers have been more focused on safety protections, and increasingly on “bargaining for the common good,” such as teachers negotiating contracts that include support for homeless students, she said.

“We’re just in a moment when all we’ve taken for granted and assumed are the systems in place for workers is actually all up in the air right now,” Gupta said.

Unusual CBA

US Soccer’s equal pay structure comes after the federation reached a $24 million agreement in February with the women’s national team to settle allegations that female players were paid less than their male counterparts.

High-profile players including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan sued in 2019, alleging they were paid less than members of the men’s national team.

As part of the equal pay agreement announced Wednesday, US Soccer also agreed to give the men’s and women’s teams the same quality of venues, hotel accommodations, staffing, and other resources. Notably, the men’s contract contains certain benefits the men’s team didn’t have before, like child care.

“When you center gender and race you’re able to negotiate on a broader set of issues,” Gupta said. “Our hope is in the low-wage sector, when workers join together, that’s exactly what they’re able to do.”

Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs With Justice, said the women’s soccer team achieved something for themselves that others have been pushing for decades via legislation.

“To me, it goes to show that collective bargaining is a pathway to set policy just like we would legislatively,” she said.

VIDEO: If Women Still Earn Less, Can Laws Even Fix The Pay Gap?

Making the Case

Unlike other sports leagues, US Soccer had little room to argue that their women’s team was at all less valuable than the men’s, said Jane McManus, executive director of the Seton Hall Center for Sports Media.

The US Soccer women’s team has earned four World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, among other wins. Meanwhile, the men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“What strikes me about this is how long it took and how excellent they had to be on the field to back up their argument,” McManus said.

“And from a law point of view, how much money US Soccer was willing to spend on lawyers before it was willing to a four-time gold cup winning team,” she said.

A federal judge in Los Angeles initially tossed the suit after concluding women on the national team actually earned more than the men in 2017-2018. The women appealed, arguing that they earned more only because they played more games and were more successful than the men, but in fact had a lower pay structure.

“Having to perform better to achieve similar pay was such a key factor for the legal arguments on appeal,” Scavetti said.

To contact the reporter on this story: J. Edward Moreno in Washington at jmorenodelangel@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Laura D. Francis at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com