Members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) ratified their collective bargaining agreement via a unanimous vote Sunday night after a 72-hour voting window.
The new CBA also comes on the heels of the confirmation of a new women’s professional hockey league, which is slated to launch in January 2024 with financial and leadership support from the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises.
The union, dubbed the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association (PWHLPA), was voluntarily recognized by its new employer, though the league itself is yet to be named. It is the first union in North American women’s pro sports — and possibly all of pro sports — to have a ratified CBA prior to the start of competition. The WNBA ratified its first CBA in 1999 ahead of the league’s third season, while the NWSL’s first CBA was finalized in 2022 ahead of the league’s 10th season.
The PWHPA’s bargaining committee — consisting of Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianne Jenner, Hilary Knight, Liz Knox and Sarah Nurse — negotiated with the league’s new owners for five months. They kept PWHPA players up-to-date on the negotiation process until the final CBA was proposed on Thursday night.
The new women’s hockey CBA outlines salary and facility requirements and guarantees benefits and standards for health insurance, housing stipends, a 401(k) program, relocation expenses, per diems, hotel accommodations, pregnancy benefits, childcare coverage, parental leave, nursing accommodations and more.
Hailey Salvian of The Athletic reported that salaries will range from $35,000 to $80,000 or more during the initial year of competition, with minimum salaries set to increase by 3% each year. Salvian also reported that the CBA includes stipulations that no more than nine players can be paid the league minimum and that, during year one, at least six players per team will be signed to three-year $80,000-plus guaranteed contracts.
According to a source who reviewed the document, there isn’t a traditional salary cap. Instead, the CBA is structured on salary averages to ensure that the divide between lowest and highest paid players doesn’t grow too large.
“It sets us up with this foundation and expectations. Players know what they’re going to get,” PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford told Just Women’s Sports.
“There are player protections and workplace safety (requirements). There are standards that are going to have to be met as it relates to facilities and where players train. All of that is critical to the success of a long term, viable league.”
Stan Kasten, a member of the league’s new board who was part of the negotiating process, praised the players involved.
“I can’t say enough about the determination of this group of PWHPA players. They fought for what they believe, they were determined, passionate and really, really smart,” Kasten told Just Women’s Sports.
“They held out until they got the rights, the protections, the facilities – all of those things that elite athletes deserve. And they didn’t settle for second best, they waited. And they wound up with something that is kind of a dream come true for all of us involved in this.”
When the PWHPA filed its articles of incorporation in 2019 following the collapse of the CWHL, as players looked for more than what the PHF (then NWHL) could guarantee, the group cited sustainability as one of its goals.
“We are prepared to stop playing for a year—which is crushing to even think about—because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Shannon Szabados, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada, said at the time.
It ultimately took four years, not one, but Kasten said the new ownership group is in it for the long haul.
“We have not just a long-term vision, but a permanent vision, and that requires funding,” he said. “It requires infrastructure. And, most of all, it requires strength of ownership and leadership. And we’re starting with Mark Walter and Billie Jean King and, I’m sorry, it doesn’t get better than that.”
There is a long history of women’s sports leagues — including women’s hockey leagues — launching without proper funding, infrastructure, or safety measures in place. That was even one of the factors Sally Yates cited in the U.S. Soccer-commissioned report into abuse in the NWSL.
“In the haste to get the League off the ground, the Federation conducted limited financial due diligence on the new league’s prospective owners and did not put in place the infrastructure or planning necessary to support the League over the long haul. Instead, the focus was on putting eight teams on the field,” the Yates report read.
The new hockey league is looking to avoid such pitfalls.
“Fans maybe don’t understand why (a CBA) is so important, but when we look at those other leagues, when we look at what’s happened in women’s hockey, a lot of those difficult things that have happened were because there weren’t player protections and workplace safety and termination clauses,” Hefford said.
While current PWHPA members negotiated and voted on the CBA, former PHF members will be eligible to join the PWHLPA union.