The US’ Major League Soccer (MLS) competition is set to utilize replacement referees in its 2024 season, as its referee employment body the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) has locked out members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) labor union.

It comes in the wake of PRSA members voting overwhelmingly (95.8%) against a new deal with the MLS on the grounds that it lacked the desired improvements in referee wages, benefits, and travel, among other issues.

It means that until a replacement is found, the MLS will be using non-PRSA replacement officials, with the season, which starts this week (February 21) with Inter Miami vs Real Salt Lake.

Peter Manikowski, PRSA president and lead negotiator, stated of the lockout: “This is [The MLS and PRO’s] weak attempt to apply economic pressure, and MLS is sacrificing the quality of the game to do that.”

The PRSA’s five-year contract with the MLS, in place since 2019, expired in January with the PRSA rejecting a subsequent agreement after a short-term extension.

After an “eleventh hour” no-strike/no lockout deal proposed by the PRO, which would have covered the 2024 season, was rejected a lockout was set in place on February 18.

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This last-minute deal would have kept wages stagnant to the level set in 2019, decreased job protection, and failed to consider the increased workload and travel that the MLS now necessitates, hence its rejection.

Since 2019 the MLS has expanded greatly, adding more teams, more games, and subsequently more travel and costs leveed onto referees whose wages have not risen in step with the increased workload, argues the union.

The PRSA also argues that the MLS and PRO mischaracterized the terms of the initial tentative agreement and stripped it of the necessary context to the public.

Manikowski added: “Rather than taking care of some very basic needs that officials have, MLS and PRO are willing to hurt the quality of the game. That should alarm every player, coach and fan, and it’s devastating to our officials.”

The dispute mirrors the beginning of the 2014 season, which also saw referees locked out at the beginning of the season for more than a month until a contract agreement was reached.