Author :Beau Dure
Monday 21 November 2016 16.12 GMT
Last modified on Monday 21 November 2016 17.14 GMT
The labor dispute between US Soccer and the women’s national team got a rare prime-time audience on Sunday, whether equal pay is realistic remains unclear
Players from the US women’s national team spoke about their labor dispute on 60 Minutes. Photograph: CBS News
The USA women’s national team revved up its case for equal pay during a segment on the venerable CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, landing a spot on the traditional post-NFL Sunday show and claiming that women deserve to be paid not just the same as the men, but more.
Left unanswered: What is the definition of “pay”? And what, exactly, is being discussed at the bargaining table in the infrequent meetings between US Soccer and representatives for the women’s team?
At this point, we don’t know. All we can see is the calendar moving quickly toward the expiration of the women’s current deal at the end of the year and a murky future beyond that.
The 60 Minutes piece interrupted a long stretch of relative quiet in the contentious US women’s labor dispute. Little has been said since the team was ousted from the Olympic quarter-finals in August, and players returned to play the rest of a thrilling NWSL professional season with scant mention of the elephant in the room.
But no news, apparently, is not good news. The two sides met in late October, US Soccer confirmed, but a follow-up meeting has been repeatedly delayed.
Nor are the sides likely to get any clarity any time soon from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal anti-discrimination agency to which the US women appealed earlier this year. The 60 Minutes piece reported that the EEOC investigation has expanded beyond mere salary to other issues, which is good news for anyone seeking a thorough examination but possibly bad news for anyone hoping to speed this process along.
And the 60 Minutes piece gave the women an opportunity to up the ante.
“Do you think you should be paid more than the men’s team?” asked correspondent Norah O’Donnell.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said US midfielder Carli Lloyd.
That’s tough rhetoric, but as 60 Minutes reminded viewers, the men’s and women’s programs have a few key differences:
International governing body Fifa awards World Cup bonus money on an exponentially different scale: $35m for the last men’s champions, $2m for the women’s.
US men usually get high pay from their professional clubs, while women’s professional soccer is still a low-revenue enterprise in the USA and globally. (Not mentioned in the 60 Minutes report: US Soccer pays salaries for national team players and has supported other costs of the NWSL; spokesman Neil Buethe says the total expenditure has been more than $10m over the league’s four-year history.
The US women receive steady salaries and other benefits the US men do not receive.
Much of the information on team compensation is public, thanks to legal maneuvers earlier this year. US Soccer sued the team’s union in February, seeking clarification on whether the team’s labor deal – a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013 and in effect through the end of 2016 – prohibited the team from going on strike. (A judge ruled in US Soccer’s favor in June.) That memorandum was released as Exhibit D of the federation’s court filing.
And still, the conversation is rife with apples-to-oranges comparisons, including this perplexing quote from Hope Solo, the goalkeeper whose ouster from the national team was not discussed in the 60 Minutes segment:
“Whether they win or lose, (the men) get paid,” Solo told 60 Minutes. “The women were on a salary-based contract.”
But a “salary-based contract”, which the women have wanted in past negotiations given the uncertainty of the professional club game, also pays players win or lose. In fact, it pays players whether they play or sit. Men get a bonus for playing but not a steady salary – if they’re not called into camp with the national team, they don’t get paid. And the men’s national team has much more roster turnover in a given year than the women’s team.
The 60 Minutes piece compared Solo’s pay to that of US goalkeeper Tim Howard, saying Howard was paid slightly more for playing only eight games in 2015 to Solo’s 23. The program did not mention that Solo – controversially, in the eyes of women’s team fans and pundits who are concerned about the team’s depth – played in 23 of the team’s 26 games while backup goalkeepers Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher played a combined 450 minutes.
And Harris and Naeher were also paid salaries and bonuses.
We still don’t know whether the women are seeking to overhaul their pay structure to make it exactly identical to the men’s bonus-only structure. US Soccer has remained quiet on the matter – president Sunil Gulati declined a 60 Minutes interview, and the federation issued a brief statement asserting its status as “the world leader in developing and advocating for women’s soccer globally for decades” and saying it’s working toward a new collective bargaining agreement in which they “believe a variety of factors need to be considered when determining total compensation”.
Rich Nichols, the combative lawyer the US women hired at Solo’s prodding, did appear on the 60 Minutes segment and reiterated his stance that the women are seeking “equal money”, but he did not specify a breakdown of salary v bonus money. Nichols and fellow women’s team representative Jeffrey Kessler did not respond to requests for comment from The Guardian on the salary structure or the delays in negotiations between the two sides.
Some issues can be easily solved. If the women want to play a 10-game Victory Tour in the fall when most US football stadiums are busy with American football, they may need to play in smaller soccer-specific stadiums to avoid artificial turf. Travel, one of the issues mentioned in the 60 Minutes report, is already covered in the most recent labor deal – the Memorandum of Understanding that, if enforced, keeps the women out of coach for longer trips:
“Travel for the Olympics will be business class or charter, unless, by its own rules applied to all national teams, the USOC prohibits it,” the agreement reads. “Travel for the World Cup/Qualifiers that exceeds 3 hours will be business class or charter.”
We can’t evaluate the fairness of the terms on the negotiating table because we don’t know them. All we know is that women’s soccer is at a precipice.
The 60 Minutes piece concluded with a surprise meeting between high school girls’ soccer players and their heroes on the national team. The NWSL and US team’s games give these girls more opportunities to see and interact with these players and meet more. The NWSL continues to make player transactions in the offseason, with the runner-up Washington Spirit puzzlingly unloading some of its top talent, but longtime fans remember that national team players were late reporting to their teams in 2013 because they had no bargaining agreement in place. Could that happen again?
So even as women’s soccer heads into a two-year period with no World Cup or Olympic competition, this high-stakes game still leaves the possibility of everyone losing.