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MLS pushes back lockout ultimatum to players’ union until June 3

MLS commissioner Don Garber (Credit: Getty Images)

Major League Soccer has pushed back its ultimatum to the MLS Players Association over accepting a return-to-play proposal by a day, until June 3, as both sides try to avoid a lockout and salvage the 2020 season.

MLS had initially given the MLSPA until 12pm ET on June 2 to agree to a package of economic concessions, as well as changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which had been agreed in February but not ratified by either side.

According to ESPN, however, MLS owners are revising their proposal and have given the players’ union an extra 24 hours, until 12pm ET on June 3, to accept a deal or potentially face a lockout.

After weeks of negotiations, the MLSPA had sent the league its approved proposal on May 31. But that offer – which included a one-year extension to the CBA through 2025 – was immediately rejected by the league, which in turn threatened a lockout if its proposals were not immediately agreed to. Since then, there has been a climbdown of sorts.

The sticking points involve the inclusion of a force majeure clause which is tied to attendance in 2021, the size of player pay cuts across the board for 2020, and changes to a revenue-sharing plan related to a new broadcast rights deal that will begin in 2023.

ESPN reported that MLS owners are worried about a potential second wave of the global Covid-19 pandemic and its affect on business, which is the reason for a force majeure clause tied to attendances in case a significant number of games have to be staged behind closed doors next year.

As negotiations continued, MLS players all skipped voluntary training on June 1.

Minnesota United winger Ethan Finley, who is an MLSPA executive board member, tweeted: “Players made a choice to focus their time and energy on an important decision which includes the threat of a lockout instead of volunteering to attend on-field training for a tournament we already agreed to attend. Refuse is not the word I would use.”

The MLSPA also distributed an email to league supporters’ groups in which the organization admitted: “We don’t know what the next 24 hours will bring.”

The email read: “As you may have seen reported, last night MLS and its owners delivered an ultimatum to players that they accept a final proposal on pay reductions, bonus reductions, and other hard fought gains that were negotiated in the CBA announced in February. This news came as a surprise to players, as they had been making progress on good faith negotiations with the league for the past two months and believed that an agreement was near.

“With this ultimatum came the threat of a lockout – no paychecks, no benefits, no ability to step on the field – and the stress and uncertainty this creates. It also means players wouldn’t have the ability to do what they love: to compete for and represent their supporters.”

The statement added: “Over the last 25 years, your support of the players has enabled us to jointly move MLS forward and create a better league; a league we are all proud of and care about deeply. While we don’t know what the next 24 hours will bring, we do know that we are stronger if we all stand together. There is no game on the field without the players – and, as importantly, players know there is no league without the supporters.”

MLS and its players are also negotiating a return-to-play plan which involves a quarantined tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, this summer.

The league is eager to salvage its season, which was postponed after the second round of games after the onset of the coronavirus crisis. In addition, the MLS All-Star Game, Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup have been called off. There also remains much doubt as to whether the US Open Cup and Concacaf Champions League will be able to take place.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced that the state is open to all professional sports teams in the United States who want to resume action amid the coronavirus crisis. The National Basketball Association is also looking to resume its season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex this summer.