Talks between the U.S. women's national team players and the U.S. Soccer Federation intensified over the weekend in the ongoing effort to reach a deal on a new contract.
The latest negotiations come on the heels of an agreement between USA Hockey and its women's national team for better compensation following a threat by players to boycott the world championships. The Irish women's national soccer team also said it would skip an upcoming international match in a labor dispute.
"There is no question that women athletes around the world are sending a strong message," said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Women's National Team Players Association. "They are demanding fairness and equality and they are changing the game for the future."
The 2015 Women's World Cup champions have been without a contract since Dec. 31. Talks were stalled when the players parted ways in late December with attorney Rich Nichols, who had been executive director of the USWNTPA since late 2014.
The players' association has met numerous times with U.S. Soccer since the union brought in a new executive director and legal representation earlier this year.
The terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement remain in place unless either side files a 60-day notice of termination. Neither side has filed.
The latest negotiations come a year after a group of players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The players maintained male national team counterparts earned far more than they did in many cases.
Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press were elected player representatives at the team's January training camp. In February, Sauerbrunn expressed hope that a deal could be struck before the National Women's Soccer league opens play this month.
U.S. Soccer pays the salaries of national team players in the NWSL and the terms are spelled out in the CBA with the federation.
"I think the tone is really positive at this point," midfielder Megan Rapinoe said earlier this year. "I think that we're excited to collaborate with U.S. Soccer and hopefully get the best deal, not only for us but for them as well in this partnership going forward. I think we're still very committed to the mission and the goals that we've had from the beginning for this CBA, and that's to get a deal that fairly reflects the work we do on and off the field and our value on the market."
The USSF has maintained that much of the pay disparity between the men's and women's teams results from separate collective bargaining agreements.
The women's team had set up its compensation structure, which included a guaranteed salary rather than a pay-for-play model like the men, in the last labor contract. The players also earn salaries — paid by the federation — for playing in the NWSL.
The women receive other benefits, including health care, that the men's national team players don't receive, the federation has maintained.
The players' EEOC complaint is still pending. On the anniversary of the filing last week, Rapinoe went to social media to both mark the occasion and support her hockey counterparts.
She posted: "On the 1 yr anniversary of the EEOC filing, we send best wishes to #USWNT hockey in their #2017WWC. Let's #changethegame #beboldforchange."
Last week, just days before hosting the world championships, USA Hockey and the women's national team reached an agreement to end their wage dispute and avoid a boycott on home ice.
The push for better wages and conditions extended Tuesday, which marked Equal Pay Day, to Ireland, where women's national team players have threatened to boycott a match on Monday against Slovakia.
The players say they're not compensated fairly by the Football Association of Ireland for the time they have to take off work to compete. They also want to be paid for matches and would like their own team apparel — something they currently share with youth players.