The United States Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association is helping the National Women’s Soccer League start their own union, donating $16,000 of seed money to the cause. The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association represents over 160 American and Canadian soccer players who are not allocated salary by the soccer federations in the professional league, which itself is only five years old.
A few months ago, the NWSL Players Association approved a new constitution and new bylaws, and the players are hoping to establish a union that will represent them. These non-allocated players are only given a minimum salary of $15,000. The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated both note that many players, with such low salaries, must live with host families or have second jobs such as coaching or running soccer clinics. A union might help these players financially and also stand up for their rights.
The US Women’s National Team Players Association’s donation of $16,000 came from the t-shirt sale proceeds of their Equal Pay Equal Play campaign in 2016, in which members of the team collectively bargained for better pay from the federation.
Women’s soccer in the United States, since the national team’s most recent and widely lauded win of the World Cup in 2015, has heightened the scrutiny in the gender gap between sports teams. Despite the team’s success, female players still receive far less pay than members of the men’s team, based on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s allegedly gender-biased structure of compensation and bonuses. Five players of the World Cup-winning women’s team filed a wage-discrimination complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016, noting that they had earned $16 million more in revenue than initially projected, but individually earning half or less than half of what male players earned.
Their complaints are not unfounded; according to the New York Times, a men’s player receives $5,000 for a casual loss and as much as $17,625 for a difficult win. Meanwhile, a women’s player receives $1,350 only if the United States wins.
The disparity between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams goes beyond just pay. At the end of 2015, after years of complaints and even a lawsuit, the women’s team took a stand against the artificial turf they have continually been forced to play on during games. Artificial turf is rough and unsafe, often causing injuries, but the women’s team had been used to playing on whatever surface was available to them. In contrast, the men’s team had always played on real grass, regardless of the expense of laying down sod on the field. It wasn’t until the women’s team refused to play a game at all that the U.S. Soccer Federation finally agreed to change the conditions in which they were playing.
Women’s soccer at the national level already struggles with proving itself and receiving equal pay and attention compared to men’s soccer. All players are united by this struggle, and the possible unionization of the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association, alongside the donation from the Women’s National Team Players Association, shows that women are willing to help one another throughout all levels of professional soccer.
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