The union for the United States women’s national team abruptly dismissed its general counsel on Wednesday, announcing the decision in a curt news release three days before its collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer was scheduled to end.
No replacement was named for the lawyer, Rich Nichols, and a representative for the players’ union declined further comment. U.S. Soccer declined to comment on the leadership change.
“Rich Nichols will no longer serve as counsel to the U.S.W.N.T. Players Association,” the union said in its statement, adding, “We are focused on productive conversations with U.S. Soccer regarding our future.”
Nichols had led the women’s national team’s union since late 2014. It was unclear what his departure would mean for the team’s contract talks with U.S. Soccer; the current collective bargaining agreement, which the players argue pays them far less than what their counterparts on the men’s team earn, runs through Dec. 31.
Nichols had been the point person in the team’s negotiations with U.S. Soccer and a fierce advocate for the women in their equal pay dispute with the federation. The sides had scheduled — and then canceled — about a half-dozen negotiating sessions this month, and the departure of Nichols could signal that the labor fight will extend into 2017.
It does not mean, however, that the players will go unpaid. A U.S. Soccer official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss continuing negotiations, said that the C.B.A. could be ended only with 60 days’ notice of termination and that such a notice had not been received as of this week. (The federation is bound by the same 60-day notice requirement if it wants to end the agreement.)
The federation’s plan, then, is to continue to pay the players under the terms of the current deal until a new one is reached, the official said, or at least until one side gives notice that it will walk away from the current one.
In their statement, the players seemed to signal that they had no intention of beginning a work stoppage in January, either. While they can turn down call-ups to the national squad at any time, and while U.S. Soccer does not have any matches scheduled for the women’s team, the women mentioned that they “look forward to seeing everyone over the course of the N.W.S.L. season, as well as at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup in March.”
The women’s wage-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, meanwhile, could be decided early next year.
The details of the SheBelieves Cup, a tournament first held in March to bring in some top international opponents for the women’s team, have not yet been announced.
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