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Players Association Make Move to Unionize in MLR

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Players Association Make Move to Unionize in MLR

Rugby Union Now is the organizing campaign of the United States Rugby Players Association.

Last week the the United States Rugby Players Association (USRPA) announced it was calling for voluntary recognition as the players’ collective bargaining representative by Major League Rugby (MLR) through the launch of their organizing campaign 

The campaign  — backed by a super-majority of players  — calls on the league to address player concerns of player Safety and Security while working towards evolving the sport and helping the MLR Strengthen the league. 

"The time has come for the players to have a say in the terms and conditions of their employment," said Nick Civetta, former U.S. National Team member and board chair of the USRPA. "Through voluntary recognition, we can work together with the MLR to build the professional game in North America in a manner that is sustainable, future-focused, and ensures the mutual success of all involved stakeholders."

"The Rugby Union Now campaign was formed in response to playing conditions and circumstances in the MLR that were deemed unacceptable and dangerous by the players," said Michael Young, Executive Director and General Counsel of the USRPA. "The scope for improvement is gigantic, and an organized and recognized player base can bring about the necessary changes to make the MLR a success."

Bryce Campbell, a longtime leader of the USRPA and National Team Captain, emphasized the need for protection during difficult situations. For example, when the MLR disbanded the LA and Austin franchises, the players were left without contracts or knowing what would happen for months.

"The league fumbled as we weren’t allowed to negotiate with other teams, even players whose contracts were up. It forced great players into retirement and caused tremendous amounts of financial and mental stress.  My wife was pregnant, and we lived in limbo for five months, unsure of where we were going to deliver the baby. If we had a union, there would be processes in place to protect us during a situation like that."

Jack Iscaro, Team Organizer for the Rugby Union Now campaign and National Team member, echoed the sentiments of many young North American rugby players: "We're hosting a world cup in eight years. Today's MLR youngsters are the future of this sport. The MLR can become a breeding ground for top-tier talent and fosters growth in its domestic pathways. The right to negotiate with the League can ensure that these development pathways are followed, because until now, necessary standards have not been met."

The Rugby Union Now campaign's platform is based on three main pillars of safety, security, and strength.

Safety: The Rugby Union Now campaign wants the MLR to improve its insurance products to guarantee and protect the rehabilitation of its players and offer group health coverage to players and their families. The current workers' compensation coverage does not adequately address the needs of professional rugby players, and their injury rehabilitation, forcing some into early retirement.

Security: The ability to negotiate fair terms through the collective bargaining process is what Rugby Union Now is seeking. The lack of a voice for the players has led to the League's unilateral self-interest, which has resulted in contracts that are otherwise unacceptable by professional sporting standards in the United States or abroad.

Strengthening the League for Long-term Success: The Rugby Union Now campaign believes that voluntary recognition can bring about a long period of robust growth and health for players and the league alike. It can also increase overall revenue opportunities for the League, avoid the acrimonious process of running a labor election, mounting legal challenges, and going toe-to-toe publicly. The campaign wants to build a stronger league together with the players, owners, and fans.

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