Earlier today, the New York Times broke the story that US Soccer filed a suit in federal court asking the court to declare that USSF and the USWNT have a valid collective bargaining agreement in place.
Since then, the court filings have come to light, helping us to understand what the issues are in this case. Here's what you need to know, boiled down to the basics:
What led up to this?
US Soccer and the WNT players association had a CBA that expired in 2012. Since then, they've been operating under a "memorandum of understanding" which would essentially govern their behavior as employer and employee until the end of 2016.
But the WNTPA got a new executive director around November of 2014 in attorney Richard Nichols, and in recent months Nichols has been telling USSF that the MOU is not a CBA, and is therefore terminable at will. He gave USSF a 60-day period to negotiate a new CBA, a period that ends on February 24, three days after CONCACAF Olympic qualifying ends and before March camps begin.
The parties met today to talk it out, and apparently USSF asked Nichols for assurance that the team wouldn't strike, an assurance Nichols wouldn't give. But Nichols has told media that he did not threaten a strike.
USWNTPA Exec. Dir. Rich Nichols says no strike has been threatened by players or union's legal team. Also said... pic.twitter.com/SPJI6hScLz— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) February 4, 2016
What do the parties want?
US Soccer wants a federal court to say that a valid CBA exists. If so, then the players are bound by a no-strike clause that would keep them in line even as they re-negotiate the CBA that is supposed to take effect in 2017.
The WNTPA wants the court to say that the MOU is not a valid CBA, and can be terminated right now after giving proper notice to USSF, which would lead to what Nichols called an "accelerated schedule for bargaining." It might be inaccurate to frame Nichols as desiring an entirely new CBA by the deadline. In one e-mail he said, "Our goal is to determine before the start of March training camps whether the parties can reach an agreement, failing which the players will consider exercising their right to terminate the MOU." [bolding added]
Without the MOU weighing them down, they're not bound by anything while they negotiate, and can strike if they feel they have to. That's a lot of leverage to have for a team with friendlies scheduled against big-time opposition teams England, France, and Germany, and then the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Just think about how unhappy fans were after the boycott in Hawaii and all the bad press that ensued.
What are some of the consequences?
If the court rules for the WNTPA, then a strike threat would loom over the previously mentioned She Believes tournament and possibly even the Olympics. USSF is worried that if the WNT strikes, they won't be able to name a replacement Olympic roster in time and would have to withdraw from the tournament, which might even lead to a fine from FIFA as well as suspension of all US national teams from future FIFA competitions. It would also affect NWSL teams, as USSF subsidized players would not be going to their clubs while the strike was in effect.
If the court rules for US Soccer, then they're asking for monetary damages for the WNTPA's "anticipatory breach," which is exactly what it sounds like - one party telling another ahead of time they're not going to perform the terms of the contract. They're also asking for monetary damages for any actual breach of the original 2013 CBA/MOU.
What happens now?
The court looks at the MOU and determines if it is indeed a binding contract. There's things they can consider like the parties' intent to be bound by the contract that will help them determine whether the WNTPA must abide by the terms of the MOU. Considering the behavior of the parties involved at the time the MOU was made, it may be difficult for the WNTPA to claim that the MOU does not extend the CBA, as Nichols asserted in an e-mail.
In the meantime, here's a tweet from Hope Solo that seems to reference this whole mess. (Solo is one of five players cc'd on these emails, including Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd, which would seem to indicate these five are part of a leadership group within the WNT as it relates to contractual dealings.)
We players stand together, united in our fight for what is right and fair. #Equality— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) February 4, 2016