US Women’s Soccer Denied Right to Strike at 2016 Olympics in Brazil

The women’s national soccer team lost its match against the U.S. Soccer Federation on June 3, 2016. An Illinois federal district court in Chicago ruled the U.S. Women’s Soccer players cannot go on strike prior to the Olympics. The Federation initiated the suit after the players’ union lawyer denied the validity of the “no strike, no lockout” provision after the collective bargaining agreement was extended through 2016. The women’s team alleges that its players are paid less than the players on the men’s national team.

The pay discrimination complaint against the Federation alleges that certain men’s soccer players earn four times as much as their counterparts. The Federation dismisses the characterization, noting that men and women are paid differently under each respective collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, the Federation suggests that figures may be skewed due to women’s soccer’s 2015 World Cup victory.

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled that the team is bound by the “no strike, no lockout” provision. Counsel for women’s soccer argued that the no-strike clause did no carry over as part of the 2013 memorandum of understanding that both sides agreed to while pursuing a new collective bargaining agreement, however, the argument did not persuade Judge Coleman. Additionally, counsel suggested that the no-strike provision should have been explicitly provided in the memorandum. Judge Coleman wrote,

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

Russel Sauer Jr. and Amy Quartarolo, representing the Federation, responded to the allegations during arguments that the no-strike clause was implied in the memorandum. Additionally, they argued the no-strike clause was not explicit in the memorandum because it was discussed in emails and other communications that the provision would remain.

A strike prior to the Olympics could force the highly successful team to withdraw from competition. The Federation reported that withdrawal from the Olympics would be detrimental to all of U.S. Soccer’s interests, as well as to the growth of girls’ and women’s soccer in the U.S. The players union indicated that it had no specific intention to strike, but wanted to have the option available. The union would like to have a new collective bargaining agreement in place prior to the Olympics.

The women’s team is seeking its fourth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

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