‘This is a Foul’: Refs’ Union Condemns Lockout as PRO Bars Major League Soccer Refs from Working Matches

PRO denies MLS referees employment; leaves matches — including Miami season opener featuring Lionel Messi — without highly skilled officials.


“This is their weak attempt to apply economic pressure, and MLS is sacrificing the quality of the game to do that,” Peter Manikowski, president and lead negotiator for PSRA, said. “We call it like it is – and this is a foul.”

The lockout was implemented by MLS and PRO on February 18, after notification that PSRA members had exercised their rights and rejected a deal that would leave them without improvements officials needed to see in compensation and benefits, travel, scheduling and other quality-of-life issues that referees struggle with as demands of the sport grow.

PSRA has also alleged unfair labor practices during bargaining on the part of PRO, practices that create an unfair playing field in reaching a contract that fairly rewards officials for their hard work and dedication to the sport of soccer. PSRA announced that its members had overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement, with 95.8 percent voting ‘NO’ as to whether to ratify PRO’s proposed tentative agreement.

PSRA has indicated its intention to continue bargaining in good faith, while MLS and PRO’s response was a lockout, denying employment to the top officials in the league. PSRA rejected an eleventh-hour no-strike/no-lockout deal for the entire 2024 season proposed by PRO that would have also: (1) frozen referees’ wages at levels negotiated in 2019; (2) rolled back job security provisions; and (3) no additional consideration from MLS or PRO for increased workload and travel.

Additionally, MLS and PRO have chosen to mischaracterize the tentative agreement publicly, utilizing percentages rather than providing the necessary context, including:

  • The highest pay increases would have benefited few officials, not the whole membership. Averages are deceiving when workers are paid so little. For example, some officials are paid $2,000 for off-field work commitments. Increasing these 100% to $4,000 does not capture the increases in the workload and does not remotely keep up with the growth around them. Meanwhile, in the last 5 years, all referees have endured an additional 10% more days on the road.
  • When divided by team, the increase in wage costs in the rejected agreement would have been less than $40,000 per team in the first year of the agreement. This amounts to MLS/PRO putting less than $1M total into new wages in the first year for the workgroup of approximately 100 officials.
  • During negotiations, PRO rejected every comparator to referees across the world, instead comparing the referees to camera operators in terms of their value to the game. Meanwhile, now MLS is saying their offer is “among the highest in the world.” Contrasted with the referees of Germany, who are paid approximately 100,000 Euro base per season and 5,000 Euro per match, MLS/PRO’s offer was not remotely close to those kinds of wages.
  • MLS/PRO’s offer would have kept travel benefits for the 490+ regular season matches each year mostly unchanged from 5 years ago. PRO’s touted “improvement” would cover less than 4.5% of matches of the entire season.
  • MLS/PRO’s offer did not provide a proper health care plan or cost-effective benefits to 70 of the officials, as compared to benefits offered by serious employers to professional employees – especially those who live, train and work as athletes.

All this is amid MLS’s massive growth in revenues from the Apple TV agreement, substantial increases in player wages, increases in the number of matches and expansion to new markets.

“Rather than taking care of some very basic needs that officials have, MLS and PRO are willing to hurt the quality of the game. That should alarm every player, coach and fan, and it’s devastating to our officials, who have dedicated their entire lives – mind, body and extensive experience – to this game,” Manikowski said. “We stand for the game.”

The MLS/PRO-imposed lockout means that PSRA officials who are at the top of their game in terms of training, experience, study and fitness are barred from officiating MLS matches. The season is set to begin on Wednesday, February 21, with Lionel Messi launching his first full MLS campaign with Inter Miami against Real Salt Lake.

PSRA members are highly skilled and well-trained professional soccer referees; any decision to utilize replacement officials who are not members of PSRA could have a substantial impact on the upcoming MLS season. In 2014, PRO started the MLS Regular Season with replacement match officials, and their lack of familiarity and experience with MLS teams, players and specialized rules created a detriment for the quality of the matches. MLS players and 29 teams are accustomed to matches being refereed a specific way, with special attention paid to dangerous tackles, head injury substitutions, discriminatory behavior and speed-of-play rules.

Meanwhile, MLS continues to reap the rewards of the league’s growth. Team sponsorship revenue, for example, rose to a record $587 million USD in 2023, a 15 percent year-on-year increase, according to a study by SponsorUnited.1

PSRA is the certified labor union representing officials working matches in MLS, NWSL, USL Leagues and MLS NextPro, and is an independent association of referees licensed to officiate the sport of soccer by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) or the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). PSRA comprises approximately 260 members, who are employed by PRO, the organization responsible for servicing MLS and other professional soccer leagues in the United States.

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Rachel Hedstrom,

Written by SerieAUKWire

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