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MLR Players Unionize

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MLR Players Unionize

Logo for the USRPA.

The United States Rugby Players Association has issued a public call to Major League Rugby to recognize the player union.

The USRPA, which represents the players on the USA national teams (both men and women), has been chosen as the MLR player union after the players voted overwhelmingly to join the organization. The USRPA then asked MLR management to recognize the union as the players' bargaining representative, but that request has apparently been rebuffed.

As a result, the USRPA has made this public announcement. A request for comment from MLR wasn't immediately answered, but we expect one soon.

“We hope that MLR management will finally engage with us so we can start working to grow the game together and collaborate on ways to improve the league,” added Michael Young, USRPA Executive Director. Young expanded on that in a conversation with Goff Rugby Report in which he said the USRPA expects to have a good working relationship with Major League Rugby, and isn't interested in airing out issues publicly.

Instead, said Young, the plan is to create an agreed-upon working relationship for all players. By doing that, said Young, they can avoid dealing with different jurisdictions or laws that govern sports in two countries (the USA and Canada).

“Our goal is to initiate an official working relationship with MLR, and we hope the league will realize that Players want to help contribute to its progress by improving standards and formalizing structures rather than having MLR choose to depict USRPA and our Players as a hindrance to the league’s operations," USA and San Diego Legion scrumhalf Nate Augspurger said in the USRPA statement.

Other players reiterated positive feelings about the MLR, especially in how the league has handled the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We really appreciate all the hard work of MLR’s management in fostering the league’s early progress," said Eagle and Utah Warriors prop Angus MacLellan. "But as the MLR continues to grow as a professional competition we need to ensure that Player views are central to its operation. Without the Players there is no game, and the league needs to recognize our voice through the Players Association for us to be valued and respected as stakeholders in the game.”

“Recent events have underscored how critical it is for Players to have a representative voice in the professional game," said former Eagle and current Seattle Seawolves player Shalom Suniula. "While the league has continued to pay us during the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to the cancellation of the latter half of its 2020 season, our lack of consultation in such situations drove home the importance for us to the secure involvement in the league’s decision-making process going forward.”

“It’s great to add the MLR Players into our Association. Growing to represent Players at the professional club level will only strengthen our effectiveness in advocating for all our members,” added USRPA National Teams’ Player Representative Board Member for the Women’s XVs Team, Kristine Sommer.

For Players, the development means there is a clear and formalized communication channel with MLR. For the league, striking an official partnership with the Players will further professionalize its relatively new structures, help make it more attractive to potential commercial partners, and substantiate claims of support for Player welfare.

Professional sports in North America have been hit with labor disputes over the past decades, and many of those disputes have their roots in the fact that the leagues shifted from owner-dominated to an ownership-player partnership. The players had to fight for free agency, revenue sharing, and pension plans; all of that would have been much, much easier to get if the leagues and the collective bargaining had started around the same time.