The U.S. Soccer Federation and the union for its women’s national team agreed to a three-month extension of their labor contract through March, a move announced on the same day players filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reinstate their equal pay claim.
As part of the extension, the sides agreed the federation will stop paying the salaries of national team players in the National Women’s Soccer League. The allocation system of national team players had been in place since the league started play in 2013.
“USWNT players will have no restrictions as to the league in which they play club soccer,” the union for the women’s national team said in a statement Monday. “Players who choose the NWSL will sign directly with the NWSL/an NWSL club and will be employed by the NWSL.”
The NWSL Players Association is attempting to negotiate an initial labor contract with the league, which has been dealing with sexual harassment allegations that led to the resignation of Commissioner Lisa Baird in October.
The extension gives more time for negotiations during the leadup to regional qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, scheduled for July 4-20.
Players led by Alex Morgan sued the USSF in March 2019, contending they have not been paid equitably under their collective bargaining agreement compared to what the men’s team receives under its agreement, which expired in December 2018. The women asked for more than $64 million in damages plus $3 million in interest under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles granted a summary judgment to the federation on the pay claim in May 2020. The judge ruled the women rejected a pay-to-play structure similar to the one in the men’s agreement with the USSF and accepted greater base salaries and benefits than the men. He allowed their allegation of discriminatory working conditions to go to trial, and the sides reached a settlement on that portion.
“The district court erred as a matter of law in holding that the women could not establish a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act because their overall and per-game compensation was greater than the men’s,” lawyers for the players wrote in a reply brief filed Monday with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. “The Equal Pay Act asks whether the rate of pay — not the total compensation — is equal. And here, the rate analysis must account for the fact that the players are paid not only to play, but to win,”
The court asked the parties on Nov. 23 to review dates for possible oral arguments in Pasadena, California, from March through May. The case will be assigned to a three-judge panel.
The USSF said the women accepted a labor contract with greater guaranteed pay than the men and additional benefits.
“U.S. Soccer remains committed to equal pay for our senior national team players and ensuring that they remain among the highest-paid in the world,” the federation said in a statement.
The USSF said on Sept. 14 it had offered identical contracts to the men’s and women’s unions, which are separate and have no obligation under federal labor law to agree to similar terms. The federation met jointly with the unions on Nov. 29 and was set to meet with the women’s union Monday.
“We’ll continue to encourage both our USWNT and USMNT to come together around one table to agree on a path forward that benefits everyone,” the USSF said.
The USSF says it cannot control the prize money give to federations by FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
FIFA awarded $400 million in prize money for the 32 teams at the 2018 men’s World Cup, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title.
FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup, and its president, Gianni Infantino, has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams to 32.
Under their labor contract, U.S. men got $55,000 each for making the 2014 World Cup roster, then split $4.3 million for earning four points in the group stage and reaching the knockout stage. That calculated to just under $187,000 per player.
The U.S. women split $862,500 for making the roster and $2.53 million for winning the 2019 World Cup, which came to $147,500 per player. If they had performed equivalently to the men, the bonus for each under their deal would have been $37,500. The women also receive payments for a post-World Cup tour that they split: $350,000 per game if they won, $300,000 if they finished second and $250,000 if they were third.
The deals also have different bonus structures for qualifying.
Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players, said “despite much lip service to equal pay, USSF and its leaders … did not and have not offered to pay women players equally.”
“USSF has failed to fix a culture that has been broken for decades that intentionally devalues women,” Levinson said.