The National Women's Soccer League made history on February 1 with the creation of the first collective bargaining agreement in professional women's soccer. The announcement came on the eve of the start of the league's tenth preseason, ensuring that the players would be able to report and begin playing with health and safety protocols in place. With both the NWSL Players Association and the NWSL Board of Directors voting to approve the CBA, it has now officially gone into effect.
The CBA addresses labor issues in the NWSL such as free agency, compensation, and player safety. For a league in its tenth season, the result of the Player Association's negotiations are remarkable. In comparison, similar free agency rules weren't available in Major League Soccer until the body's 20th year. The passage of the CBA comes after over eighteen months of negotiations between the player union and the league's Board, lead by current and former players Tori Huster and Meghann Burke. The threat of a strike and a firm February 1st deadline for negotiations worked in the players' favor, allowing them to finally receive the rights they have deserved from the inception of the league.
With the full legal breakdown of the CBA not yet released to the public, we don't know the exact language, but preliminary indications are that this is a major win for the players.
Prior to the passage of the CBA, the minimum wage for players was only $22,000. In most of the teams' markets, the salary was not a living wage, forcing players to take second jobs to supplement their incomes. The minimum base wages for players has increased to $35,000. Additionally, the minimum salary will rise 4% annually. Alongside the increase of base salary, teams will be required to provide matching 401k and housing stipends in order to help accommodate players. The monetary value of these additions will raise the minimum compensation to roughly $54,000 per season for players. Furthermore, players will have the opportunity to receive portions of commercial revenue, allowing them to directly profit off of their likenesses.
Free agency becoming a reality for NWSL players will finally allow them to have control over where they play, reclaiming that aspect of their lives. The NWSL CBA has adapted a tiered free agency availability depending on the number of years a player has played in the league, similar to how free agency works in the WNBA.
- In 2023, individuals who have six years of service with the NWSL will receive full Free Agency
- In 2024, individuals who have three years of service in the NWSL will receive Restricted Free Agency
- In 2024, individuals who have five years of service in the NWSL will receive full Free Agency
This win will allow players to take agency over their own career trajectories. It will also allow players to take the negotiations for contract and salary into their own hands.
The NWSL is also the first league to provide thirty days of severance pay and housing for those who have been waived. This clause will help make the transition easier as players leave teams and move.
The final list of demands from the PA concerned player safety and well-being. Now, players will be guaranteed 8 weeks of paid parental leave, whether they choose to give birth or adopt. Previously, pregnancy and having children was considered impossible for players during the playing season and while under contract, as they were likely to lose their job after their child was born. Now, players can safely expand families while retaining their jobs and income.
Additionally, players are now able to take up to six months of paid mental health leave. After the reckoning of the 2021 season and the public recounting of sexual and emotional abuse of players, taking a step back from the league and the sport can now be a safe and viable option. Treating mental health the same as physical health in a professional sport is still unheard of in many leagues, and needs to become the standard. Players like Bethany Balcer and Simone Charley have been vocal about the impact that professional soccer has had on their mental health. This new benefit available to NWSL players will no doubt extend careers and make players safer and healthier.
Under the agreement, each team is required to employ a team physician, massage therapist, sports scientist, sports psychologist, and a team clinician to provide mental health services. These professionals will increase the safety of players and follow standards set forth within the CBA. All teams will be required to follow the same standards, ensuring equity across the league.
The passage of the CBA is monumental, and sets the precedent for other leagues to follow suit. It took ten seasons to get to this point, and many players and their experiences over the last decade have made this historic moment possible. The NWSLPA has demonstrated that they are standard-bearers for strong union representation in women's sports, alongside organizations like the WNBPA, which successfully negotiated a CBA in 2020 with the WNBA, which included such benefits as family planning assistance