USA Hockey and its women’s national team struck a deal to avoid a world championship boycott over a wage dispute, three days before the tournament starts.
Both sides confirmed a new, four-year contract was agreed to Tuesday evening.
“Our sport is the big winner today,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said in a press release. “We stood up for what we thought was right, and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together. I’m proud of my teammates and can’t thank everyone who supported us enough. It’s time now to turn the page. We can’t wait to play in the World Championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal.”
Earlier in the day, a four-year contract was set to be voted on by players, but it was held up for hours in the afternoon by an unforeseen contract-language snag, according to a source close to the situation.
The 23-player roster said March 15 that it would boycott the world championship in Plymouth, Mich., unless significant progress was made over “fair wages and equitable support” in negotiations that began 15 months earlier.
Now, the team is set to play its worlds group-play opener with rival Canada on Friday. The U.S. will hold its first practice Thursday.
“Financially, there was some compromise involved, but I think in the big picture it was a really good thing for women’s hockey,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said by phone, while refusing to discuss financial specifics. “A lot of good things were resolved to their satisfaction. It’s a really good foundation to move forward, four years without distractions to hopefully maintain our position as the No. 1 team in the world.”
The national team sought a new contract with USA Hockey that would pay top players throughout the four-year Olympic cycle, in addition to other items including more resources allocated toward women’s program development.
USA Hockey offered this on deal specifics:
The agreement includes the formation of a Women’s High Performance Advisory Group of former and current players from the U.S. Women’s National Team program, along with volunteer and staff leadership, to meet regularly to assist USA Hockey in efforts to advance girls’ and women’s hockey in all areas, including programming, marketing, promotion and fundraising. That is in addition to the focus on the grassroots hockey areas that volunteers of USA Hockey’s Girls’ and Women’s Section have been involved with for almost 30 years.
An emergency USA Hockey board of directors meeting was held Monday to discuss the matter, but neither side commented on negotiations that evening.
The two sides previously met last Monday for more than 10 hours, talks that both sides called productive. But USA Hockey proceeded to postpone its training camp, cancel its scheduled exhibition with Finland last Friday and start looking for replacement players through the weekend. It made a counter offer to the national team on Thursday that was rejected.
Dozens of players from around the country — post-collegiate, collegiate and high school — posted on social media that they turned down USA Hockey invitations to possibly be on a replacement team for worlds should the original team stick with its boycott.
Previously, USA Hockey’s compensation was awarded exclusively during the six-month Olympic period, while regular monthly stipends came from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” Duggan said in a press release on March 15. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”
Support grew for the national-team last week, with messages of solidarity from the players’ associations for MLB, NBA, NFL and the NHL.
On Monday, 16 U.S. Senators called on USA Hockey to “resolve this dispute quickly” to ensure the team receives equitable resources.
The U.S. seeks its first world title on home ice and its fourth straight world title overall, which would be its best streak in worlds history (dating to 1990). Canada has won the last three Olympic titles.
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