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US soccer women shown red card over right to strike

Published 04/06/2016

The US women's team poses before a friendly against Japan in Commerce City, Colorado (AP)
The US women's team poses before a friendly against Japan in Commerce City, Colorado (AP)

A Chicago judge has said America's world champion women's soccer team does not have the right to strike for better conditions and wages before the Summer Olympics.

US District Judge Sharon Coleman's ruling appears to end the prospect of an unprecedented disruption by one of the country's most successful national teams.

The case pits the US Women's National Soccer Team Players Association against the US Soccer Federation, which sued in February to clarify the strike issue.

Judge Coleman ruled on Friday that the team remained bound by a no-strike provision from its 2005-12 collective bargaining agreement.

The federation warned a strike could have forced the women's team, which is seeking its fourth straight Olympic gold medal in Brazil, to withdraw from the games and said that would have damaged American soccer as a whole.

The union wanted the option of striking, though it had not said definitively that it would strike.

The lawsuit focused on strike rights is related to a complaint filed by five players in March with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleges wage discrimination by the federation. Friday's ruling does not directly affect that complaint.

US stars Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe say they are paid far less than their counterparts on the men's national team.

But US Soccer says that claim is misleading, partly because the men and women are paid differently under separate collective bargaining agreements.

During oral arguments before Judge Coleman last week, the federation said its collective bargaining agreement remained in effect until December 31, while the union says any such agreement has expired.

The union did not immediately address whether it would appeal against Judge Coleman's decision, but executive director Richard Nichols said it did not affect wider grievances.

"To be clear, the court's ruling does not negate the fact that US Soccer does not fairly compensate the women's national team, or in any way impact the players' demands for equal pay for equal work," he said.

In her 13-page opinion, Judge Coleman said the union did not convince her that the terms of the 2005-12 collective bargaining agreement, including a no-strike clause, did not carry over when the sides signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2013 modifying the previous deal with terms through 2016.

And she was dismissive of union arguments that a no-strike provision should have been spelled out explicitly in the memorandum.

"Federal law encourages courts to be liberal in their recognition and interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, so as to lessen strife and encourage congenial relations between unions and companies," she wrote.

"A collective bargaining agreement may be partly or wholly oral and a written collective bargaining agreement may be orally modified."

US Soccer said officials were "pleased with the court's decision and remain committed to negotiating a new CBA to take effect at the beginning of next year".

The sides have continued to meet in a bid to agree to a new contract. If a new agreement is not reached by December 31, the players would then have a clear right to give notice of a strike.

The US team, who won the 2015 World Cup with a 5-2 victory over Japan, opens their Olympic title defence on August 3 against New Zealand in Belo Horizonte.

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