Hockey champions join soccer champions in battle for fair pay

The defending world champion US women’s hockey team is currently involved in a stand-off with USA Hockey over a compensation and wage dispute.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/AP/File
US player Hilary Knight celebrates after scoring against Finland goaltender Meeri Raisanen during a women's world hockey championships game in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, on March 29, 2016. US players announced last week they planned to boycott the upcoming world championships in Plymouth, Mich., unless significant progress is made toward a labor agreement.

Earlier this month, the United States women’s national hockey team announced they would boycott the upcoming Women’s World Hockey Championships in Plymouth, Mich., scheduled to begin March 31, based on the firm and unwavering stance taken by USA Hockey in ongoing wage and compensation negotiations.

The women’s team, which has medaled in the past five Olympic games (one gold, three silvers, and a bronze) and is currently the defending world champion, is seeking more extensive compensation, as well as better promotion and greater investment nationwide in girls' hockey programs.

At present, the players only have wage-earning contracts during Olympic years, when they earn $1,000 per month during the six-month residency and “virtually nothing” the rest of the time, reported The New York Daily News.

Instead, the players would like four-year contracts with consistent yearly compensation – similar to the deal provided for their greatest rivals, the Canadian women’s hockey team (although the Canadian team is funded by the national government, unlike the US team).

In 2000, a similar deal was struck for the US women's soccer team that “changed the course of soccer for girls and women in this country,” writes Julie Foudy, a former professional and national soccer team player, for ESPN. The agreement set into motion more equal treatment which meant “promoting our games better, spending more money on marketing the women's team, and, equally as important, spending more money on developing and supporting young girls,” Ms. Foudy writes.

Or, as hockey captain Meghan Duggan put it, "stop treating us like an afterthought."

Nearly two decades after the women’s national soccer team first raised awareness of their wages, their fight has matured to demand compensation equal with the men’s national team, as The New York Times explains.

Meanwhile, the women’s hockey team isn’t even pushing for equal wages, they simply want reasonable treatment.

Borrowing a page from the US women's national soccer team playbook, the women's national hockey players have hired Dee Spagnuolo, one of the attorneys who represented the US women’s soccer team in 2000, to leverage their interests, reported SB Nation.

Essentially, writes Lindsay Gibbs for Think Progress, the players would like “to travel the way the men’s team does (which is, well, not in coach). They want USA Hockey to pay for them to bring a guest to big tournaments like they do for the men. They want more equipment  – right now, many players have to ration three $250 sticks and one pair of $600 skates throughout the year.”

In short, "It shouldn’t be that way,” veteran national player Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told Think Progress. “We should be treated like professionals.”

While the issue has only recently received widespread attention since the boycott was announced, the players emphasize that negotiations have already gone on for more than a year.

“We’ve gone back and forth with USA Hockey the last 12-16 months,” USA captain Meghan Duggan told Sportsnet earlier this month. “We decided after a long period that we wanted to get some lawyers and really start fighting for some equitable support and wages for women in our sport.”

USA Hockey has responded to the women’s boycott by threatening to send a replacement team to the world championship, even contacting college players, but the team has received outspoken support from other professional sporting organizations.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, a labor union that represents MLB players, took to Twitter to urge all hockey players to stand united with the national team. The National Basketball Players Association, a labor union that represents basketball players in the NBA, also issued a statement of support.

And now, according to The Washington Post, while the National Hockey League Players Association had previously issued a statement supporting the women, the US men’s national hockey team may also boycott their own world championship in solidarity.

While the men’s world championship doesn’t begin until May and will be held in France and Germany, the teams are already arriving in Plymouth, Mich., for the women’s tournament, making it all the more dramatic that, as of this writing, the home team will not be participating.

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