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MLS sent into disarray as referees protest days before the start of the new season

The MLS referees’ labor union has rejected a new CBA offer and is now poised to initiate a strike just four days before the commencement of the 2024 season.

Both the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) and the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PRSA) have been unable to reach an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) ahead of the 2024 season. Consequently, PRO and MLS are prepared to kick off the 2024 season with replacement referees across all levels, as PRO is responsible for employing referees for the league.

Their previous CBA lapsed on January 15, and negotiations have been ongoing since then. Despite reaching a tentative agreement last week after more than a month of discussions, 95.8% of PSRA members voted against the offer on the table.

Effective February 18 at 12:01 AM, PSRA officials will face a lockout, and PRO will commence preparations for the first week of the season without their primary officiating team.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the officials have voted against the tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement reached by the Professional Soccer Referees Association and the Professional Referee Organization,” Major League Soccer executive vice-president of sporting product & competition Nelson Rodriguez said.

“PRO worked for months and addressed all the issues that were raised by PSRA’s bargaining unit. It is also unfortunate that the PSRA rejected PRO’s offer for a mutual no strike – no lockout commitment, which would have allowed all match officials to continue working during ongoing negotiations. PRO has informed us of its contingency plan for the upcoming MLS season, which includes utilizing experienced professional match referees supported by veteran VAR officials. We are confident in the comprehensive plan they have put in place.”

Mark Geiger reveals his thoughts about the referee protests

PRO general manager Mark Geiger said: “Time has been of the essence to conclude a fair deal and move forward together with renewed positivity ahead of our 12th year of supporting the growth of the professional game in the United States and Canada.

“We made meaningful progress during recent bargaining, agreeing to fair pay increases, and addressing many of the PSRA’s concerns with respect to non-economic items. This represented approximately a 25 percent overall increase over 2023 when comparing salary, retainers, game fees, and benefits plus the addition of business class travel for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The result of the membership vote is disappointing.

“The PSRA has rejected a no strike/no lockout proposal from PRO through the 2024 MLS Cup, which, along with their public strike authorization, has created significant risk as the 2024 season begins. We are left with no choice but to institute a lockout and use qualified non-bargaining unit officials so that games can go ahead as scheduled.”

PSRA head chimes in on the issue with MLS referees, particularly the replacement ones

“We live for this game, giving it 100 percent of our dedication, experience, fitness and ability,” Peter Manikowski, president and lead negotiator for PSRA, said. “The skyrocketing growth of MLS has significantly increased demands on officials mentally and physically, and as such has increased demands on both our professional and personal time. Our members are asking not only for fair compensation at a time when the league is reporting record growth, but also for the ability to take care of themselves on the road and at home to continue officiating at the highest level that this sport demands.”

Manikowski also revealed that the PSRA believes that replacement referees do not have the qualifications to perform at the highest level of the game in North America.

“This game evolves rapidly and play happens quickly,” Manikowski said. “We think replacement officials generally do not have the current experience and level of fitness required to do our jobs. The sport and everyone involved — players, coaches and fans — deserve referees who are the best in North America at knowing the MLS game and its current rules and applications.”

With the 2024 MLS season scheduled to commence in only four days, Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are gearing up to host Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, February 21. However, the league and PRO must now determine their replacement referees in time for the match, which is swiftly followed by the opening weekend three days later.

Ethan Dempsey
Ethan Dempsey
Ethan is a lifelong football fan. When he is not obsessing over the Premier League games, Ethan likes to read fantasy tomes, watch football documentaries and waste hours upon hours on video games.
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