Saturday, February 20, 2010

MLS Players, Contracts and American Labor Practices

From Pat Martin on Total Sports Network writes about the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and what the MLS Players are seeking.

Now Martin makes some good points, but he then ruins it with this statement:
MLS players want guaranteed contacts?

Ask the millions of unemployed Americans if they would have liked guaranteed contracts in their previous places of employment. You earn your money, or you're gone, plain and simple.

As it should be.
Well, there is a massive difference between an MLS Player, or an NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA player--a contract.

Most Americans employed in the public or private sector have what is called "at-will" employment, which means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment contract at any time, for any or no reason. If your boss doesn't like the way you dress, or talk to customers, or is just having a bad day, she/he can fire you from employment. Now if you are fired, you are entitled to severance pay usually and of course unemployment benefits.

On the other hand, if you don't like your job, you can usually quit at anytime, usually without consequence, but also without benefit of severance pay (other than perhaps accumulated vacation pay) or unemployment benefits.

But professional athletes have a contract--a binding document that lays out the rights, responsibilities between the parties. Contract employment often has bargained for exchanges. The Player agrees to play only for that team or league in the case of the MLS for a certain period of time and in turn they will get paid a certain salary and benefits.

If one of the parties breaks or breaches the contract there are legal consequences for that breach, usually in form of compensation to put the non-breaching party in the position they would have been had the contract been performed. For example, if you have a house and need to have your roof repaired, you will may sign a contract with a repair company to fix the roof. If they start the work and then quit, you are entitled to damages, including either having the roof repaired or more likely to have the roofer pay for a new company to come in and complete the work. By the same token, if you the roofer does the work satisfactorily and on time, he is entitled to get paid the agreed upon price. If you fail to pay him, he is entitled to the agreed upon price as well as interest damages.

In the context of the MLS, the players and league sign a contract. Under current rules, the MLS (or more likely a team) can cancel your contract, waive and release you and there is no compensation for MLS' breach of that contract. MLS doesn't owe you the balance of your contract, even if you have a three year deal at $50,000 per year and you are waived in year two. by the same token, if the player quits for whatever reason, then usually the league is not particularly affected, but that players rights, even if he doesn't play anywhere else, are held by the team he quit for some indefinite period.

You see, it is the contract that makes a MLS player different from the average American. MLS can cancel a contract right now with absolutely no consequences. That is the point of a guaranteed contract, if the contract is cancelled by the MLS, they don't have to make the player whole for the breach. Now if MLS players were "at-will" employees then they would not have a greivance about the contract status, but the players are under contract and that makes their rights as an employee very different.

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