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MLS referees locked out by PRO as season opener approaches



Center line at Subaru Park
Photo provided by the Philadelphia Union

With Major League Soccer new season kicking off in just about a week, the league finds itself in a predicament as its referees are set to be locked out. The Professional Referee Organization (PRO), responsible for overseeing match officials in MLS, is resorting to a backup plan after failing to secure a ratified agreement with the referees’ union.

Late Saturday morning, it was revealed that the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), which represents the league’s officials, overwhelmingly voted against ratifying a tentative agreement, with 95.8 percent opposing the proposal. Furthermore, the PSRA also declined PRO’s offer for a mutual agreement to prevent a strike or lockout up to the conclusion of the 2024 MLS Cup.

As a result, PRO announced it would lock out its match officials starting at 12am ET on Sunday, February 18th. Mark Geiger, PRO’s general manager, expressed disappointment in the turn of events. Despite negotiating fair pay raises and addressing numerous non-economic concerns raised by PSRA, which amounted to roughly a 25 percent overall increase in compensation and benefits compared to 2023, the agreement was not ratified.

Here are some key terms PRO highlighted on the proposed five-year CBA:

  • Overall increases in guaranteed pay in the agreement’s first year: 10-33% for referees, 75- 104% for assistant referees, and 15-100% for video match officials, plus increased match fees for regular-season games and playoffs.
  • An increase of seven percent in 2027 for all salaries/retainers and match fees – the highest mid-contract raise ever offered – with three percent increases in all other years.
  • First/business class air travel for the playoffs and MLS Cup throughout the deal, and for Decision Day in 2027 and 2028.
  • Additional benefits include enhanced injury continuance for referees and assistant referees, physical therapy reimbursement for referees and assistant referees in PRO’s sports performance program, employer contributions for assistant referees and video match officials for reimbursable health care costs, and increased severance for referees and assistant referees.

“The PSRA’s refusal of a no-strike/no-lockout agreement through the 2024 MLS Cup, coupled with their public strike authorization, presents significant risks as we enter the 2024 season,” Geiger stated. “We are compelled to initiate a lockout and employ qualified non-union officials to ensure the scheduled games proceed.”

On the other side, PSRA’s president and lead negotiator, Peter Manikowski, pointed to inadequate compensation, benefits, and unaddressed concerns related to travel, scheduling, and other quality-of-life issues as the main reasons the tentative agreement failed to pass.

PRO has told the league of its contingency plan for the upcoming season. In a release from the league, it states that the plan is to utilize experienced professional match referees supported by veteran VAR officials. MLS has said that they are confident in the plan that is in place.

As the situation unfolds, the implications of this lockout on the MLS season’s start remain a critical concern for all parties involved. MLS is set to get the season started on Wednesday, February 21st as Messi and Inter Miami CF takes on Real Salt Lake. For the Philadelphia Union, their first game is on Saturday, February 24th against Chicago.

Sean Sullivan is an Associate Editor for Philadelphia Soccer Now/Brotherly Game, where he has spent the past few years covering game day events for the Philadelphia Union. In his day job, he oversees creative and studio production for a corporate event streaming company based in the Philadelphia region.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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