What are collective bargaining agreements and how are they used in Sport?

Collective Bargaining Process

Collective Bargaining is a process seen under the Labor Laws of the USA and used in the sporting arena where owners and the players union participate in discussions which eventually produces a document called a collective bargaining agreement.

What will be discussed during the collective bargaining process?

The following issues are often discussed during the collective bargaining process:

  • Wages

  • Hours

  • Conditions of employment

These will be referred to as mandatory subjects that must be bargained over with an agreement being formed. Anything other than the above are termed permissive subjects – parties are lawfully able to refuse to bargain over permissive subjects.

Collective Bargaining Agreement

The collective bargaining agreement will therefore establish the rules and regulations of their relationship. Once the parties have entered into collective bargaining, they are obliged to bargain in good faith and the failure of either party to do this will be in contravention of US labor law.

The subject matter of a collective bargaining agreement

Collective bargaining agreements will express the complete range of relationships between the management of the league and their athlete employees. Although the bargaining agreements may vary between sports the following things will usually be covered:

  • Club discipline

  • Non-injury grievances

  • Injury grievances

  • Base salaries

  • Access to personal files

  • Medical rights

  • Retirement

Example of a recent collective bargaining agreement

The Major League Soccer (MLS) division in the USA has recently agreed a new collective bargaining agreement which is set to run until 2014. This agreement was formed between the MLS and its players union – MLSPU

The MLS players are centrally employed by the league with the collective bargaining agreement defining the terms of their employment and provides for such things as an increase in salary, plus compensation and re-entry draft for players out of contract.

Issues involved with the use of collective bargaining agreements

Under the previous collective bargaining agreement players were on two different kinds of contracts:

  1. Guaranteed contracts

  2. Non-guaranteed contracts

Guaranteed contracts meant that the player was guaranteed to be contracted by the MLS for the duration of the contract. Non guaranteed contracts meant that the contract could be terminated by the MLS in any given year without the requirement to pay the payer compensation. Furthermore under the terms of the terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement the MLS could require players to relocate to any MLS team within 24 hours or to loan a player to overseas clubs.

What is the position in the Football Association Premier League in relation to the contracting of players?

Players who ply their trade in the Football Association Premier League are required to sign a contract with the individual club who obtains their services. This will be along the terms established by the standard FA Premier League contract which all players have to sign. Once a player has signed with a club the club will be required to register his contract with the FAPL and the Football Association.

The ownership of the players therefore rests with the individual clubs and not the league.

The players playing their football in England also have a union which represents their rights called the Professional Footballers Association (PFA).

What will be provided for in the FAPL contract?

The FAPL will deal with a variety of issues such as the length of the possible contract (maximum five years) and other issues such as the clubs ability to use the images of players in a collective sense rather than the players right to use their images in an individual sense.

If the players are required to sign a standard FAPL contract, how does this differ from the collective bargaining process?

Despite the players having to sign a standard FAPL contract which contains a variety of standard terms there are some terms which can be individually negotiated by the players with their club. Most often these will be seen as the most important terms to the players and relate to the wages that they will be paid and also the additional playing bonuses that they will be entitled to.

This means that under the current FAPL system there is a notion of individual bargaining between the clubs and the individual players and their agents.

Are there any advantages to operating a system of collective bargaining?

The following can be seen as advantages in using a collective bargaining system in football in the UK:

  • Players would be put on an equal footing in the contractual process

  • Players out of contract would be looked after in the fact that the Governing Body would find them a new club

  • If the union bargains on behalf of the players then this may remove the role of agents in the contractual process in relation to the playing contracts of players

  • The interest of the league would be put before the clubs

Are there any disadvantages to operating a system of collective bargaining?

The following may be seen as disadvantages to the operating of a system of collective bargaining:

  • The governing body may be seen to have too much control taking this away from the clubs

  • If agents can only handle commercial contracts rather than playing contracts even more pressure may be placed on the commercial side rather than the playing

  • If an agreement cannot be reached between the union and the league the players will be entitled to strike – this may result in the postponement of fixtures of even the league

  • If an agreement cannot be reached between the union and the league the use of arbitration may be required which would see the internal matters of a sport again coming into the external realms of the legal system

The European Model of Sport versus the US Model of Sport

Collective bargaining has been a system adopted in the US since the 1960’s with baseball the first sport to adopt it and works due to the system operated in the sporting arena in the USA. Under the US model of sport there is no promotion or relegation in the leagues with the emphasis being on the competitive nature of the sport so that there are not always the same teams who are consistently the most successful – the drafting of players each year and the movement of players by the body in control of the league is the best example of this. Control of the salary also makes it possible for the teams often to be on the same level playing field. In order to achieve the US model of sport it is essential that the players are owned by the league with agreements made through collective bargaining.

However under the European Model of Sport there exists a system of leagues all containing promotion and relegation with the clubs in independent control of themselves. They may be regulated by the leagues and the world, European and national governing bodies but essentially the clubs are separate independent entities. If collective bargaining were to be introduced into the FAPL for example it would require a complete overhaul of the current system.