US women’s team gives seed money to help launch NWSL union

The U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is donating $16,000 to help get the union for players in the National Women’s Soccer League off the ground.

The NWSL Players Association represents more than 160 players who are not paid by the U.S. and Canadian soccer federations. Those federations pay the salaries of 33 national team players who are allocated across the five-year-old women’s professional league.

The $16,000 donation represents the proceeds from T-shirts sold as part of the U.S. national team’s 2016 #equalpayforequalplay campaign while the players sought a new labour agreement with U.S. Soccer. A deal between the two sides was struck in April.

A month later, non-allocated NWSL players overwhelmingly approved a new constitution and bylaws for a players’ association. The group seeks to represent the interests of non-allocated players with the league’s 10 teams and the league office.

The donation will help launch the union, said Yael Averbuch, a midfielder for FC Kansas City who was recently elected president.

She said while players have collectively worked to build a strong relationship with the league, “it’s really important that it (the union) is formalized and we’re able to speak on behalf of all these players, who before didn’t have anywhere to turn when something is going wrong or anyone to stand up for them.”

Becca Roux, interim executive director of the USWNTPA, says the national team players wanted to empower their NWSL teammates.

“We have shared goals to grow the NWSL and the women’s soccer more broadly, so we are committed to working together as players and as players associations to do that, but we’re also committed to working with (managing director) Amanda Duffy and the NWSL, and owners across the league, to build on the growth and success of the past five years over the next five years and beyond,” Roux said.

Averbuch said the NWSL union will look for ways to improve the financial situation for its players. The minimum salary for non-allocated players in the league is $15,000 and many have second jobs, such as running soccer clinics, to make ends meet. Some live with host families.

“We believe that if we’re able to work together with the league to continue to promote our product and find creative ways to that, and enhance the work environment of the non-allocated players in other ways like offering education opportunities and empowering those players to build their own brands and start businesses on their side, that the financial-type things and other improvements will come,” she said.

That may include helping players continue their education or earn coaching certification, she said.

The U.S. women’s national team’s collective bargaining agreement finalized earlier this year includes provisions for national team player pay in the NWSL. Following their victory in the 2015 World Cup, the players waged a campaign that drew attention to the pay gap compared to the men’s national team.

The national team players have also supported other female athletes who are seeking better pay and working conditions. That includes the U.S. women’s hockey team, which won significant raises from USA Hockey in April after threatening to boycott the women’s world championships on home soil.

Along with announcing the donation, both unions on Thursday also launched the #NWSLhighfive to celebrate the league’s fifth year. The league’s regular season ends this weekend with four of the league’s 10 teams headed to the playoffs — the Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars, Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage.

Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press

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