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MLS, referees end lockout

The lockout of Major League Soccer's referees has ended following an agreement on a five-year labor contract.

The Professional Referee Organization, which manages game officials for the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS, and the Professional Soccer Referee Association announced the agreement Thursday. Replacements had been used for the first two weekends of MLS games.

PSRA’s negotiation committee tentatively agreed to terms on the entire CBA on Tuesday, said PSRA vice president Steve Taylor said via email. The lockout began March 7, a day ahead of MLS openers.

The PSRA board of directors approved the CBA on Wednesday, and by Wednesday night the PSRA membership passed it. The agreement runs until Jan. 15, 2019.

A source said that an overwhelming majority of the PSRA's members approved the deal, with the agreement passing by a 72-3 margin. The CBA is the first to be negotiated between the two sides since the formation of the PSRA last year.

"We are looking forward to having our referees back on the field and officiating games," said PRO GM Peter Walton. "The new agreement will provide important benefits to our referees while ensuring that PRO will be able to achieve its goal of developing and employing world-class referees for the competitions we serve."

Taylor added that the ratification of the CBA and acceptance by the PRO Board effectively ends the lockout of PRO/PSRA officials in time to have them take charge of MLS games this coming weekend.

"PSRA is pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached with PRO," said Taylor.

The PSRA referees had been out of work since March 7, when PRO -- the referee management arm of MLS -- imposed a lockout.

PRO took the step after the PSRA declined an offer of a no-strike/no-lockout agreement while negotiations took place. The PSRA membership had authorized its board back on Feb. 21 to call a strike at any time, and PRO stated that it was concerned the referees might walk off the job without adequate time to find replacements for the opening of the MLS season on March 8.

Payment for games, compensation insurance in case of injury, performance standards and evaluation, fitness and fitness testing, and travel standards were the major negotiating points.

The two sides also filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the other side of engaging in unfair labor practices.

The FMCS entered the fray on March 12, and since then the two sides had engaged in marathon bargaining sessions that ultimately resulted in an agreement.

"First contracts sometimes pose difficult challenges as the parties seek to define the parameters of a new formal relationship," FMCS acting director Scot L. Beckenbaugh said in a statement.

Lucas Middlebrook, a PRSA lawyer, said the deal includes "substantially better" compensation and "a number of non-economic work rule protections such as a just-cause standard for certain disciplinary matters and standardization of fitness testing.

"In addition, the officials now have a contract protecting important quality-of-life items such as travel standards, vacation time and advance notice of match assignments," he told The Associated Press.


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