SEATTLE - The 2024 MLS season kicked off this past week but surrounded by off-the-field controversies. The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), the union that represents soccer referees in the United States, has not been able to reach a deal with its employer, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), in regards of wage increases, benefits and travel accommodations for referees.

The previous collective bargaining agreement between the two entities expired in Jan. 15, but both sides agreed to multiple extensions to continue operating under the terms of the old CBA, allowing referees to attend training camps and work preseason games.

After weeks of talks, PRO locked out the union on Feb. 18, with PSRA arguing that the agreement presented to the union lacked "a sufficient economic package and quality-of-life improvements." This marks the second time in the last 10 years that PRO, funded by MLS, has locked out the PSRA referees during CBA negotiations.

With PSRA members picketing in New York and Dallas, it does not seem like this issue will be resolved anytime soon.

Amid the CBA conversations between both sides, MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems confident that the league will be okay and is prepared for any outcome. "I will tell you that we are very prepared and are more than willing to manage this in a way that's in the best interest of our players, our teams, the best interest of our fans," Garber said to the Associated Press. "I don't know how you get to a point where there's a work stoppage and not know what it is that you're disagreeing about. That's frustrating. I imagine it's frustrating for fans. It's certainly frustrating for us, but we'll see how it plays out," he added.

In an attempt to continue with their season, MLS hired replacement referees to officiate MLS' opening match-week, a tactic the league also used for the first two weeks of the 2014 season before they reached a five-year agreement.

PSRA filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge against PRO just last week, alleging that members of the executive board "unlawfully threatened and coerced potential replacement workers by threatening them that performing officiating work during a lockout would negatively impact the officials' eligibility for assignments to officiate college soccer matches."

While the issue continues to be negotiated, PRO has already identified 66 replacement referees to officiate in MLS until a deal can be agreed between both parties. Out of those, only 11 have FIFA or professional experience in one of the top three divisions in other countries.

According to ESPN's U.S. soccer correspondent Jeff Carlisle, CBA talks are scheduled to continue Wednesday, Feb. 28, in New York City, with a federal mediator present.

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