The new USFL is only a few weeks old, but a union is already in the works

The sports union movement may soon have another participant, a union for players in the new United States Football League, and potentially for competitors in future minor football leagues like the XFL slated for next year.

A petition to represent the USFL’s approximately 360 players was recently filed with the National Labor Relations Board, and the league has until May 10 to post the petition in the workplace.

Spring football is a tough financial proposition, littering the sporting landscape with bankruptcies, failed leagues and lawsuits. Bringing in organized workers in the first weeks of the USFL’s launch could be seen as a worrying sign, as organizers have scrambled to cut costs so much that the league plays all of its games in one city, Birmingham. , To the. Players are paid up to $5,000 per game in most cases.

But in a statement through a spokesperson, the USFL, which is owned by Fox Sports, said it welcomes the potential labor starter:

“The USFL welcomes and respects the right of our players to organize with any union they choose to represent them. We understand that the federal agency charged with handling these matters is currently dealing with the potential representation of our players. We intend to cooperate fully with the agency in resolving any issues that exist regarding representation.

The petition was filed with the NLRB by the United Steelworkers union to represent all USFL players, including those who are suspended, on the injured list or physically unable to make the list, according to a copy of the document, which Athleticism obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO, was introduced by the United Football Players Association (UFPA), a non-profit organization established two years ago after the collapse of the XFL. second iteration. The UFPA has been advocating on behalf of non-NFL football players ever since, but without any official representative status and limited funding. Until this year, his role was primarily to offer advice on claims in the XFL and Alliance of American Football bankruptcies, and advice on playing opportunities in Europe. Now the USFL is live and the XFL is planning a third try next year.

“We needed support with labor, labor rights, etc., and being able to organize,” said Kenneth Farrow, a former NFL and XFL player, president and co-founder of the UFPA. “So steelworkers have done a great job in football, you know, with the NCAA and some of the things they’ve been able to do in the past.”

United Steelworkers defended on behalf of NCAA athletes in 2020 to support federal legislation being pursued by Senator Cory Booker.

When asked why his organization was not working with the National Football League Players Association, Farrow did not rule out the possibility in the future, but said the steelworkers union was more willing to act quickly.

“We’ve had conversations with some of the (NFLPA) reps, different chapter reps and things like that,” he said. “And, you know, at the time, nobody was moving… The steelworkers were there, they provided a partnership opportunity. And, so with the USFL getting up and running as fast as it did, we had to act on that. So it was just the partnership that was there. And it has been established. And I think nothing is on the table to move forward.

The potential union does not include coaches, team staff or any other employees, according to the petition. The United Steelworkers referred the questions to Farrow.

Asked what the USFL union would ask for, Farrow said it was more about negotiating a contract at the bargaining table, rather than handing each player a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

“It’s just basic stuff, basic protections when it comes to whether it’s medical, whether it’s some of the resources…whether it’s life situations, or whatever. whatever, we want to make sure players have a voice in any contract they’ve signed,” Farrow said. there is no negotiation on anything that is in the contract.”

It is unclear when a union vote could take place. After the petition notices were posted at the USFL workplace in Birmingham, the NLRB has scheduled a representation notice hearing for May 23, which is being called to decide whether an election should be held. Since the USFL appears to be cooperating, the hearing might just be a formality.

There were and are sports unions for the minor leagues. The NBPA represents the G League, and while it existed, the Arena Football League negotiated with a players’ union. Although a much bigger league now, Major League Soccer has had a union to bargain with since 2003. There is even a union with the United States Rugby Association.

Farrow wants to make it clear that the players don’t want to be an obstacle to the viability of the USFL.

“We’re not trying to step in and shut down anything,” he said. “But we believe that if these leagues are going to continue to move forward, year after year, we need to have a collective voice.”

(Photo: Douglas DeFelice/USFL/Getty Images)