Dunivant: Players union ready to take on MLS

On the eve of the MLS Cup final, LA Galaxy defender and players union executive board member Todd Dunivant made it clear the union is ready to battle MLS in upcoming labor talks.
CARSON, Calif.— Todd Dunivant has been a part of four MLS Cup winning teams throughout his career, and could become just one of four players to win five if his Los Angeles Galaxy can defeat the New England Revolution in Sunday’s final. But as important as that final is, Dunivant is also gearing up for what is arguably an even more important battle for MLS players in the coming days and weeks.

Dunivant is an executive board member of the MLS players union, and with the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire at the end of this current season, Dunivant and the union are working hard to prepare for a looming labor battle with a league that continues to insist it is enduring financial struggles even as television and expansion revenue have reached all-time highs.

Speaking to media on Saturday at StubHub Center, Dunivant revealed that the players union had submitted their first proposal to MLS three weeks ago, and was awaiting the first counterproposal in what he expects to be a prolonged tug-of-war.

“They’re going to focus on the losses and we’re going to focus on the revenue. It’s pretty simple,” Dunivant said. “I wouldn’t think that they’d want to say that they’re making tons of money and things are going great. You say what you need to say.

“I know how these things go, I know how the last one went,” Dunivant said, referring to CBA negotiations. “There’s not movement until really the final hour. I wouldn’t expect much until February.”

The players union is set to meet in Las Vegas next week to discuss the process ahead of a meeting in New York with MLS officials at the end of December. While Dunivant would not get into specifics about the union’s demands, he made it clear that increased salaries are a priority.

“It’s pretty clear that we play by a lot different rules than the rest of the world,” Dunivant said of the MLS salary structure. “You can even look at just Mexico, and look at their salaries versus ours.

“And it’s funny because the league does spend a decent amount of money, but it’s concentrated on one or two players on each team,” Dunivant said. “ And if you balance it out, we’re not by any means wanting to get rid of the DP rule, but there’s already money being spent. We’d just would like there more to be spent on the rest of the roster to have good teams, and I think that makes a lot of sense.”

A long-time active member of the players union, Dunivant has experienced past CBA negotiations and believes the union is in position to have more leverage in the upcoming negotiations than ever before.

“The league is at a different point now than it was five years ago, and at that point, in 2010, it was a lot better off than our first round,” Dunivant said. “This is our third CBA now. The first time was more the league giving us whatever they were going to give us. The second time we had a lot more leverage, but it was still a situation where there was a lot of unknowns.

“Now, we feel like the league is in an unbelievably good position. The finances have changed a lot and we feel like the player pool should reflect that, and if the league wants to live up to the billing of being the best league in 2022, and really be on the world stage, then you can’t do it with different rules than what the rest of the world plays by.”

The most recent CBA, signed back in 2010, came after prolonged negotiations that required independent mediation to complete, and that deal came just before the start of the 2010 season. While that CBA did help MLS players see some progress in salary figures and player movement flexibility, there was still some sense in league circles that the players union could have struck a better deal then. Something that the union doesn’t plan on letting happen again.

“You always wonder if you can get more. There’s always that sense of ‘could we have pushed a little harder?,” Dunivant said. “But I think this time we’ve done a lot of back work over the last couple of years to make sure we know the issues, we know where we stand and we know where we’re going to finish up. I don’t think we’re quite ready to say where that is yet, but we have a really good sense of the player pool, and what we’re willing to take and what we’re willing to walk with.”

As for just how long negotiations will take this time around, Dunivant doesn’t expect the process to be a quick one, and made it clear the union is prepared to do what it takes to ensure the players receive a deal they consider fair.

“Nobody wants a strike. I don’t think the league wants it, I don’t think we want it, but we’re prepared for anything we need to do,” Dunivant said. “They’ll focus on the losses and we’ll focus on the revenue and hopefully we can find a middle ground somewhere.”