Red Bulls’ Player Rep Robles talks CBA, Mediation, Free Agency and more

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Players Union and Major League Soccer has begun to heat up. Both sides are searching for common ground prior to the start of the season, with hopes of reaching an agreement — and avoiding a strike or lockout.

The New York Red Bulls are represented by Luis Robles during these CBA negotiations. Robles is also accompanied by midfielder Dax McCarty.

EOS spoke to Robles about the current CBA negotiations, his role as club ambassador and the many intricacies being discussed between the owners and players.


EOS: Give us an update on the current CBA negotiations.

ROBLES: This week was different because we had mediators. To my knowledge this is the first time since negotiations began that mediators have been implemented.

Mediators will be present pretty much a couple of times a week until the season begins or until the agreement comes to an end.

What have the recent conversations been about?

This last time we met, there weren’t too many discussions on the economics; those are some of the bigger issues. I heard a lot of smaller issues, small fires to be put out.

From here on out, it will ramp up — the pace and frequency is starting to get really serious but our focus has remained undeterred.

What are some of these smaller issues?

It’s always going to be the little things no one ever thinks about; second options, insurance issues, relocation, trades, when you get drafted how you handle it, termination of contracts …

It’s such a comprehensive process — but it’s an important one. If we don’t handle these issues now and we start talking economics, issues will be blown over. That’s why it is important to go through this process and make sure we are very thorough. We proposed, they counter proposed, we re-proposed and now we are awaiting a response. There are a lot of things I never would have thought, yet they are important pieces in the CBA and that most players don’t ever think about until they fall into that minority’s situation where they have to figure out how this works.

What has been the most surprising aspect of the negotiations for you, in terms of these small issues?

The legal language was surprising to me. How a sentence is phrased, how one word can be used or portrayed. That was an eye opening experience for me. The legal language is very specific and it is very important because it either limits or allows in cases to be more lenient than others.

It is about soccer, and it is about the game. We want to be able to put the best product out there and, for the most part, we continue to have that focus, but then there is this aspect of life that has to be dealt with.  Some of these issues deal with quality of life and how things are handled. Just like we are called to be professional, we expect a certain level of professionalism not only on our care but the way we are treated.

All we are trying to do regardless of small issues or economics; we see the relationship we have and we are moving closer to establishing a partnership. They need us, we need them.

Is the recent call for mediators a sign that free agency continues to divide discussions?

Mediators are part of the process. It was only a matter of time before they came on board.  We have come to a point where the conversation could come to a stand still and it’s important that someone is facilitating the conversation and the ball continues to move.

If we aren’t communicating effectively or efficiently, then we are stuck.  Whether we come to an agreement now or at deadline or at strike, there has to be an agreement.

I am glad they have been involved as early as this week because it is a conversation that has continue to progress and grow. They will be a key player in that.

How does free agency fit in with MLS?

We see this league continue to grow. We see the ambition the corporate types have for this league, and as players, we agree with them. This league has a lot to offer globally and we are excited about where it is going. This is just a natural progression.

There is always going to be resistance, some sort of obstacle when it comes to free agency, but what makes this year different than 2009 is we handled some of the other issues and we have come to a pretty good agreement with the league over the last four or five years. We progressed a lot as far as how players are treated and how other cases are handled.

Free agency is not only going to be good for the league but good for the players.

Recently, EOS detailed the kind of leverage players are taking into these negotiations.  Are the union aware of some of these points, and how do they act upon them?

It’s nice to see the media is aware of all those factors because we became aware of those the last few years and the union did a good job of educating us.

When we took the surveys for the players [in 2009], it was just money. It was just the bottom line. If we can raise the salary cap, if we can raise the minimum, everyone’s welfare will be better.

This time what the union did was to educate the reps first and have them appropriate information and examples to take to their teams.

In some cases [with free agency], you get what you are worth and in some cases, it doesn’t pan out that way. It’s not just because players get free agency this time around wages will all go up. In some cases, that will be the case, but in others, it would balance out.

We would be best served if we didn’t abuse the leverage because there is a lot of responsibility that comes with this negotiation. A strike is not in anyone’s best interest. The momentum that has occurred the last couple of years, we want to continues to increase and maintain. But with the same responsibility, we have to look at how can we manage this leverage and play our cards right to continue to put players well-being at the forefront and for those players that really pioneered and have been subservient to the league, in a sense, to get their due reward.

Does that make it all the more reasonable to assume the union will play on that leverage?

We recognize the leverage that does exist with the new franchises coming in and the momentum of the league and TV contract. On the other hand, there is also encouraging things on the periphery such as the BPL’s TV deal. You see a 7 billion contract handed out and think wow! That is pretty incredible! When you see how interested the American population is and how it continues to grow, you get a sense that if we continue to grow the league in a responsible way…you see the opportunities and potential exist.

We don’t want to do anything to compromise the league but we also have to be responsible. We also have to be in a sense able to take advantage of what has been given to us to serve our best interest and the leagues best interest.

Is the union prepared to strike if necessary?

We spent the last couple of years becoming educated with the topics, preparing for something that may occur.  [The Player’s Union] have done a good job of financially putting us in a position where if something like that were to occur, there wouldn’t be wide spread panic.  Education and preparation have been central in the union’s preparation.

(Audio interruption muddled the final bit of our talk, but to summarize, Robles explains that union reps have encouraged players to save money over past two years to avoid insurrection and pain in lower pay scales.  There are contingency plans in case of a strike, but he would not reveal the details.)