Minnesota United players started small-group training sessions on Thursday, one day after the players’ union ratified a labor agreement with Major League Soccer that followed tense, high-stakes negotiations that Loons veteran Ethan Finlay called “bullying” and “power plays” by team owners and league executives.
Citing those negotiations, Loons players had stayed away those sessions since Monday, when they had been approved to begin under loosened restrictions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks players had participated in voluntary individual training at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
The new collective bargaining agreement — agreed to in February, but never ratified — now will be extended one year to 2025 and restart a suspended season with a July tournament in Orlando.
It also reshaped a “force majeure” clause intended to protect both sides in the event of something like the pandemic after commissioner Don Garber threatened on Sunday night to lock the players out if an agreement wasn’t reached.
That threat that left Finlay, a member of the MLS Players Association’s executive board, critical of the league after the two sides had reached the February agreement in what he called a “partnership.”
“We’re not in any way going to tell the league what to do,” Finlay said Thursday in a video call with reporters. “But I think being included in some of the important conversations would have helped this process, whether that’s Orlando and structure of Orlando (tournament). Whether that’d be going from feeling like we were on a good negotiation to the threat of lockout if you don’t accept our deal. Those are some tactics I would view as bullying and really just power plays.
“I don’t think players take to kindly to that and I’m also thankful that cooler heads, at least on our side of our side of the table, did prevail.”
In a video call with reporters Wednesday, Garber said the league has taken a $1 billion hit from lost revenue in a league suspended after it played the season’s first two games in March. Finlay said Thursday that the players agreed to salary cuts and other concessions reaching $100 million or more in this new deal.
Said Garber, “If we didn’t believe we were arguing for and advocating for things really crucial to the future success and viability of the league, I certainly wouldn’t have gone down that path.”
It’s a winding path that Finlay said damaged work done when the two sides agreed in February to that new labor deal.
“You talk about the relationship: We came out of that CBA we agreed upon Feb. 6 and believed we really started a partnership with the league,” Finlay said. “It had taken a long time, but we thought we were started to be treated a little bit fair and I think we’ve taken many steps back from that, just how things were handled from the league side to the player side.”
Garber originally set a Tuesday lockout deadline for the league’s 729 players if a deal wasn’t reached and then extended it to Wednesday. He did so Sunday night after the players association announced it approved a package of concessions that owners didn’t accept.
“It was the first time in my tenure I have ever seen the word `lockout’ come across the table,” Finlay said. “You understand it’s a word not very often used when we’re at the negotiating table, even when we were discussing CBAs in past years. It’s a very serious thing and something we take very serious. To get it back in written form on Sunday evening was a great disappointment for the player pool.”