United Soccer League players take step toward unionization

Players from the United Soccer League are one step closer to becoming formally unionized, according to union organizers.

In a news release sent out by the USL Players Association, 53 percent of the league's professional players have signed authorization cards, satisfying the majority threshold required by federal labor law, and the USLPA has now requested voluntary recognition from the USL.

In the event that the USL, which represents the third tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid, decides to withhold recognition, the USLPA plans to petition the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an election, and a majority vote would result in certification. The election process could take another year.

The players have engaged a Washington D.C.-based arbitrator and mediator to perform an authorization card check, and they are waiting for the league to decide whether it will participate in the process.

A USL spokesman on Wednesday said the league had no comment on the unionization effort by its players.

"The organization effort represents the players' desire to have a voice and a working relationship with the league," said Ted Philipakos, a New York University professor and player agent, who has been assisting the players with the unionization effort. "It should be emphasized that the proposed union gained majority support by promoting collaboration with the league rather than activism against it."

Tyler Ruthven of Arizona United SC and Paolo DelPiccolo of the Charlotte Independence have taken on leadership roles in the campaign.

MLS players have had a union since 2003, and negotiated their third collective bargaining agreement with the league just prior to the start of the 2015 season. Players in the second-tier North American Soccer League do not have a union.

The USL, while an independent league, has a close working relationship with MLS, and the two leagues are now in the third year of a partnership together. Earlier this year, the USL said it has plans for the league to expand to up to 40 clubs, with each club owning or controlling its own stadium and operating profitably by the end of the decade.

In 2015, the USL featured 24 clubs, including eight MLS-operated clubs and 12 MLS-affiliated clubs.