An Interview with Women’s Professional Soccer Players Union Executive Director Jennifer Hitchon, Pt. I

On September 8, 2010 the Women’s Professional Soccer Players Union (WPSPU) was officially recognized and certified by WPS and all team owners. The formation of the WPSPU signified a positive step for WPS in terms of union-league negotiations related to a multitude of issues. Boston Breakers and United States Women’s National Team central defender Rachel Buehler adds, “The union is a great way for the owners and players to work together and help the league continue to grow and improve.”

Up to this point, few details have been made public about the union and its current status. In the first installment of a two-part interview with All White Kit, WPSPU Executive Director Jennifer Hitchon discusses how the union was formed, its main functions and objectives, and the issues that remain on the agenda.

 

AWK: As the Executive Director of the Women’s Professional Soccer Players Union (WPSPU), what are your primary responsibilities and how did you initially get involved?

JH: I got involved when players from all seven WPS teams gathered at the All-Star Game in Atlanta last summer and decided they wanted to organize a players union. There had been ongoing unionization discussions on the teams, and veteran players remembered the old WUSA union and newer players recognized that one was necessary. They asked me to help with the logistics and legal aspects of union formation, and I ultimately brought on Bob Stropp, a union-side labor attorney with experience representing both sports and women’s unions, to serve as General Counsel.

 

AWK: Can you talk about the origins of the WPSPU? How was it formed and what are the WPSPU’s main function and goals?

JH: After a series of conference calls, team meetings, letters, and emails, Bob and I met with the WPS’s attorney and an arbitrator in September 2010 in Washington, DC to review documents that WPS players had signed authorizing a union. When it was demonstrated that the players supported unionization, the WPSPU was formally certified as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for all WPS players. This means that the WPSPU will bargain with the league on behalf of the players over all term and conditions of player employment, and will protect player interests and improve intra-league communication. The players have control over all union activities and bargaining positions.

 

AWK: What has the union done since being certified?

JH: During the offseason, the union approved a Constitution and Bylaws, organized a bargaining committee, distributed a newsletter, completed surveys and made decisions regarding player priorities, sought health insurance and workers’ compensation payments for players, secured reimbursement for allowable player expenses, liaised with the league and US Women’s National Team regarding scheduling issues and, most recently, worked to ensure Adidas athletes understood licensing issues.

Much of my time is spent writing letters supporting visa petitions for international players, helping players appeal disciplinary actions here and abroad, and assisting individual players and their agents with reading and construing contract terms. I also work closely with Anne-Marie Eileraas, WPS CEO, on issues as they arise.

 

AWK: What is the structure of the WPSPU? How many representatives are on each team, and does every player have a say in union matters?

JH: There are 1-2 player representatives per team and a standing bargaining committee. Teams are currently selecting their representatives for this season, and we are in the process of reorganizing the bargaining committee to replace some retirees. Players are also involved outside of any formal leadership structure. For instance, Meghann Burke served as an ad hoc union field organizer last season while completing law school and playing for the Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC. Sky Blue FC and England National Team goalkeeper Karen Bardsley freelances as a graphic designer and created a logo for us. Shannon Myers of magicJack, who moonlights as a writer and public relations advisor, put together a union newsletter that was distributed to all players in the offseason.

 

AWK: What are the most pressing issues on the WPSPU’s agenda?

JH: The players have set the following priorities: health insurance, injury protection, salary minimums, and conditions for developmental (now essentially nonexistent) and short-term, temporary players.

 

AWK: Does the WPSPU also represent USWNT players?

JH: The WPSPU represents National Team players in their dealings with WPS. For issues specific to US Soccer, the National Team has its own players association.

 

Check back on Friday for Part Two of our interview. Hitchon sheds light on the current status of a collective bargaining agreement , the importance of having a CBA, and what the WPSPU hopes to achieve in 2011.

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