The MLS via its mostly owned subsidiary Pro Referee Organization (PRO) locked out the regular MLS referee pool today. The Washington Post has a bit more:
Major League Soccer will utilize replacement referees after the officiating union and management failed to settle a labor dispute on the eve of the season openers….
The head referees this weekend include Alan Kelly, a FIFA referee originally from Ireland; Ioannis Stavridis (Greece); former MLS officials Abbey Okulaja and Ramon Hernandez; a second-division NASL ref; a former MLS fourth official; and two refs from Puerto Rico….
The biggest area of contention was pay for the assistant referees (the two guys on the side with flags) and fourth officials (the guy with the substitution board. ) The referee union wanted a pay scale where if a non-whistle referee works a full MLS season (approximately twenty assignments) plus training camp, they would get paid a season fee sufficient to keep from qualifying for Medicaid. Currently, the whistle referees (the centers) are full time employees and get paid decent wages. The goal is to get decent wages for all game-day officials.
Right now a US assistant referee who is World Cup eligible will make approximately $15,000 from MLS for the regular season and then a bit more during play-offs. Assistant referees who are still very good but not FIFA level won’t get a full schedule and they get paid a lower per game rate as well. 4th officials get even less than junior assistant referees.
MLS has recruited international referees, former MLS refs who are former MLS refs for a good reason, and lower division referees who weren’t being fast tracked to the MLS as the whistle scabs. The same applies to the non-whistle scab pool. I am at a major tournament this weekend where a good number of people who are good enough to get into the scab pool (non-platinum program 5 NCs, National-4s who topped out, National Emertii etc) will be working. I think I know what we’ll be talking about at the bar tonight.
I just want those potential scabs to think about the non-professional level of economic organization for refereeing in the United States before they make a major decision. But first, I’ll tell them about the NFL referee lock-out and the after-effects on people’s careers.
The NFL referees stayed strong and were significantly supported by their most likely scab pool (major conference Division 1 college football referees). Most of the NFL scab referees were refs who had topped out at the bottom of Division 1 or more often Division 2 and Division 3 football. Some of the high level solidarity was because the high level D-1 NCAA refs know that they have a good thing going for themselves, and giving back an Alabama v. Auburn game for a Tampa Bay v. Atlanta game won’t make them that much more money while pissing off their college assignor who has been sending good games to an official for a very long time and would continue to send good games their way.
More importantly, the NFL referees are part timers. Most of the NFL referees are involved in other aspects of the sport. They are the college conference assignors, evaluators, trainers and mentors. They are the high school referee administrators and assignors. The NFL refs controlled a significant number of choke points of advancement. There are scab referees who worked NFL games last year that can’t get a high school game anymore.
Soccer is organized the same way. Most of the MLS referees are involved in other aspects of refereeing. I’ve worked with MLS referees on local amateur games. I’ve been assessed and mentored by MLS officials. Former MLS officials control many college schedules. MLS referees and former MLS referees play a significant role in the selection process of the next generation.
99.94% of the referees in this country are solely independent contractors. That means we have no right to a game. We can ask assignors for a game (or get a call at 11:42 on a Friday night from a desperate assignor who needs to get an 8:00AM game covered on Saturday — and yes, he owes me several), but assignors have no obligation to give any particular referee a schedule.
What I think will happen is significant solidarity among the top tier of the potential scab pool. The MLS can dangle an early whistle to a candidate who probably would be on an MLS game in three or four years anyways, but if they take that whistle, they’ll lose all mentoring, all informal knowledge building sessions over beer and burgers, and their assistant referees may just hang the center out to dry. The same logic applies to the top tier assistant referees who are in the pipeline for the MLS. I know several of the top tier potential scabs personally (and have worked with them for a decade,) and they are all sitting this one out. They value the chance of a real shot with a good crew more than a cheap shot. They also value their continued access to major conference Division 1 NCAA games.
This will reduce the referee scab pool for the MLS to internationals, retirees and people who fucked up at the minor league levels below the MLS thus destroying their normal professional hopes. They’ll fuck up several games fairly quickly.
NB: I’m not at the level where this decision would ever be something that I would have to face (I’m too slow).