The U.S. women’s national soccer team isn’t just preparing for the Rio Olympics, they’re entering a new era of political activism as a sports team while they fight for equality. Between CBAs, MOUs, the EEOC, there’s plenty to unravel here beyond the #equalplayequalpay hashtag.
Here’s a timeline of some of the bigger moments over the past few years that have led us to the current stand-off between the USWNT and their own federation, even as the team continues to prepare for the Rio Olympics.
December 31, 2012: The collective bargaining agreement between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women’s national team, originally negotiated in 2005, expires.
March 19, 2013: U.S. Soccer and the USWNT player’s association come to an agreement over the CBA, just in time for the first season of the National Women’s Soccer League, via a memorandum of understanding that is valid through 2016.
The federation and player’s association issue this joint statement:
We are pleased to have concluded this agreement in a timely manner. It took a little longer than we had hoped given the complexity of the issues involved but we are happy it is now behind us. This agreement will allow the players to focus on keeping the U.S. Women’s National Team at the top of the sport and ensure the NWSL is successful for its launch in April.
October 1, 2014: A group of players files a suit in Ontario tribunal court against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over playing the 2015 Women’s World Cup on turf. Americans included on the lawsuit were Alex Morgan, Heather O’Reilly, and Abby Wambach. The legal action ultimately is abandoned by January 2015. Abby Wambach’s statement upon the conclusion of the legal challenge included this:
Our legal action has ended. But I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields – and the tremendous public support we received during the effort – marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.
November 24, 2014: John Langel leaves the USWNTPA and notifies U.S. Soccer that he has been replaced via email. Richard Nichols becomes the new USWNTPA Executive Director. U.S. Soccer later uses this email as evidence, including this:
Among other things, in his email Mr. Langel noted that, because the parties had not gotten around to combining the two documents comprising the 2013 CBA/UPA — the 2005 CBA/UPA and the MOU — into a single document “the parties need to edit, where applicable, the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Uniform Player Agreement consistent with the March 2013 Memorandum of Understanding.”
July 5, 2015: The U.S. women’s national team wins the Women’s World Cup (on turf) in Canada with a 5-2 victory over Japan. Carli Lloyd scores a hat trick; there is much rejoicing.
December 6, 2015: A Victory Tour match between the USWNT and Trinidad & Tobago is canceled at Aloha Stadium over field conditions. The team pens a piece detailing their role in the cancellation in The Player’s Tribune the following day. While it’s not directly related to the upcoming battle over equal pay, it’s worth noting that the players noticed that the field was not inspected according to the standard protocol.
We went to the U.S. Soccer Federation and informed them of our decision, after which, they went out to see if the field could be improved. It was deemed unplayable. (Usually, for what it’s worth, the Federation will go out to the venue to check out the field months in advance. To our knowledge, this was not done, and the field had only been inspected days prior.)
December 24, 2015: Nichols informs U.S. Soccer that: “it is the position of the WNTPA that the CBA no longer exists, and further, that the MOU is terminable at will” and sets a sixty day deadline for a new agreement. If a new agreement wasn’t arranged by February 24, the players would be free to take any actions until a new CBA was agreed upon, including potential strike actions.
February 3, 2016: U.S. Soccer sues the USWNTPA over the validity of the existing CBA with the team. Here’s the full statement from U.S. Soccer released the day the suit was filed in court:
CHICAGO (Jan. 3, 2016) – Earlier today, U.S. Soccer reluctantly filed a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago to confirm the existence of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that has been in place since 2013 and is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016.
U.S. Soccer felt it necessary to take this course of action after Richard Nichols, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Women’s National Team Players Association, notified U.S. Soccer that he does not believe there to be a current CBA, a position which would allow the team to take labor actions on and after February 24 – a view inconsistent with the negotiating history and directly contrary to the position of the prior Executive Director who actually negotiated the current agreement.
We are confident the court will confirm the existence and validity of the current CBA, which has been in effect since U.S. Soccer and the Women’s National Team Players Association reached agreement almost three years ago. During that time, U.S. Soccer has complied with all of its obligations included in the CBA.
While unfortunate, we believe taking this action provides the parties with the most efficient path to a resolution, in an effort to not jeopardize the team’s participation in any competitions this year, including the 2016 Olympic Games. Obtaining a prompt resolution on the validity of the current CBA will allow both parties to focus on continuing negotiations in good faith on the next CBA that would start in 2017.
U.S. Soccer is the recognized world leader for the advancement of women’s soccer and is actively engaged in improving the opportunities for young girls playing soccer across the country. We recognize the tremendous value that the Women’s National Team brings to the game of soccer, and we look forward to continuing our work with the players to address their concerns and continuing to help improve the game in the future.
The lawsuit also provided the first real inside look at the federation’s financials in regards to the women’s national team, beyond the documents made public as part of the federation’s annual budget reports.
[More at Excelle Sports: What you need to know about the CBA-based lawsuit]
February 10-21, 2016: CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament. The U.S. women’s national team successfully qualifies for the Summer Olympics.
March 30, 2016: The NY Daily News releases a large feature on the inequalities faced by the U.S. women’s national team, both within U.S. Soccer and the larger world of FIFA, plus a look at the role that Soccer United Marketing plays in the greater U.S. soccer landscape.
March 31, 2016: Five players (Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan) file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the entire team over inequalities of wages and treatment.
[More at Excelle Sports: U.S. Women’s National Team files complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]
The players appear on the Today Show with Nichols, then follow it up with a conference call with media. Becky Sauerbrunn says, “We’re united, and it was about time. U.S. Soccer has no justification for paying us as little as they do and we’ve shown through financial statements, we’ve shown through the number of viewers at our games. We do a lot for this federation and should in every way we should be paid the same as the men as well as be given the same respect as the men.”
[More at Excelle Sports: Becky Sauerbrunn on EEOC complaint: ‘We’re united, and it’s about time’]
— Carli Lloyd (@CarliLloyd) March 31, 2016
April 10, 2016: Carli Lloyd pens an essay in the New York Times titled “Why I’m Fighting for Equal Pay.”
She doesn’t mince her words.
Simply put, we’re sick of being treated like second-class citizens. It wears on you after a while. And we are done with it.
June 1, 2016: U.S. Soccer responds to the EEOC complaint in a twenty-page position statement, asking the Commission to dismiss the players’ complaint.
[More at Excelle Sports: U.S. Soccer responds to EEOC complaint, ‘deeply disappointing and inaccurate’]
The federation argued on multiple fronts to prove that there is no discrimination causing pay differences between the WNT and the men’s national team; that the salary structure between the two teams is different, that there is a “fair pay” clause in effect, and the CBAs were negotiated at different times.
Also June 1, 2016: 31 U.S. Senators write a letter to Sunil Gulati and U.S. Soccer, expressing concern over the EEOC complaint. Led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the letter concludes:
We urge you to resolve this dispute quickly and ensure that the U.S. Women’s National Team is fairly compensated. You have an opportunity to be a leader on this issue and help pave the way towards equal pay for equal work for all women.
(2/2) Players have documented disparities in pay, including salaries, win bonuses and daily travel allowances. pic.twitter.com/lks9Ufk5TL
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) June 1, 2016
[More at Excelle Sports: Is equal pay good business strategy for U.S. Soccer?]
June 3, 2016: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman decides in favor of U.S. Soccer in U.S. District Court in the lawsuit over the validity of the CBA and memorandum of understanding. The players must now hold to the existing CBA, including the no strike and no lockout provisions.
[More at Excelle Sports: Court rules for U.S. Soccer in CBA lawsuit]
— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) June 3, 2016
August 3, 2016: The U.S. women’s national team’s first match of the Rio Olympics, against New Zealand.
December 31, 2016: The expiration date of the current CBA and memorandum of understanding between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer.
TBD: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision on the players’ complaint. Generally, the EEOC has a ten month turnaround time on investigations and determining if a complaint is valid, but it could take longer. It may not be settled prior to the expiration of the memorandum of understanding in December.