Walker Zimmerman has explained the lengthy negotiation process behind the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) that saw the United States Men's and Women's National Teams receive equal pay.
In a first-of-its-kind agreement in world soccer, players from each team will be paid identical game bonuses and appearance fees, as well as sharing the sum of prize money from their respective World Cup runs.
Reaching this point wasn't simple, though. From a change in leadership on the men's side to the women's team still working under an existing CBA, there were plenty of hurdles for both sides to overcome.
Zimmerman was among the leaders from the USMNT who helped get negotiations over the line and a new deal signed. Speaking exclusively to former USWNT defender Yael Averbuch West on 90min's Football Americana podcast, the Nashville SC center-back has talked through some of the hurdles that needed to be cleared along the way.
"I think what's made it so interesting has been just kind of the turnover and the timing of our expired CBA," Zimmerman said. "Again, for those who are not listening, our CBA was up at the end of 2018. As of January 1st, 2019, we were playing on an expired CBA while the women were still supposed to be under theirs, which I think has always made it a little bit difficult to negotiate for US Soccer, because in order to have equal pay, it was very difficult for them with the timing of when those deals started and ended.
Yael Averbuch West welcomed USMNT and Nashville SC Designated Player Walker Zimmerman for the latest episode of 90min's Football Americana. As the World Cup fast approaches, the defender revealed what's going on behind the scenes at recent USMNT camps - ahead of matches against Wales and England in Qatar. Zimmerman also spoke on the revolutionary CBA agreed upon by the US national teams and US Soccer, giving the USMNT’s side and perspective as the historic procedure went down.Subscribe to the series here.
"The other tough piece, I think, for the men's side is the turnover in personnel. We had a leadership council that kind of was running through 2018 and included a lot of veterans who had been around for many years who negotiated that CBA and when 2018 happened, there was a lot of turnover in the player pool, a lot of new people trying to step up. Then just I think there's just more continuity with the players that get called in on a regular basis with the women than the men."
From the men's side, Zimmerman highlights the expansion of a previously small leadership council as key to expanding the 'conversation' regarding CBAs.
Even so, the negotiations regarding a new men's deal still collapsed in June of last year - a moment which, ironically, opened up the possibility of agreeing a joint deal with the women's team.
"We realized probably in 2019 or 2020 that we needed to restructure our leadership and the way that we operate," Zimmerman explained. "We had had five members on the leadership council and it was pretty much strictly five members who were always negotiating and talking to our lawyers more regularly. Then in probably 2020, 2021, as we were starting to engage in conversations with the federation, we expanded that leadership group to probably 12 or 13 players. I became a part of that expanded group probably from 2020 on.
"It just allowed for more conversation, more engagement from a variety of players. Then as we got closer and had reached close to a deal in June of 2021, that ended up falling through. From that point on, I think, is where everything shifted into realizing, okay, it's going to be better to negotiate a joint CBA with the men and the women and get all the parties at the table together."
How was the equal pay deal received in the USMNT camp?
Given that the USMNT has historically received bigger prize money than the USWNT despite generally performing worse at major tournaments, there are those who would see the men's side agreeing to equal pay as a 'sacrifice'.
But Zimmerman insists that wasn't the case, rather that it was 'exciting' to help their companions in an everybody-wins scenario.
"I don't think it was necessarily seen as a sacrifice," he said. "I think we looked at the CBA itself and recognized that we're going to become one of the highest-paid international teams in the world and not even talking about the women's side just as the men's team.
"The fact that it is equal terms with the women, it's not like we were losing money, we're still making gains. The beauty of it is the women are now also making way more incremental gains from where they were and now it's all equal, which is really exciting for both teams. We were thrilled and excited because I think it would've been a sacrifice if we looked at our expired CBA and then went backward.
"I think we ultimately were like, look, this is a great deal for both teams. What an amazing opportunity to do something historic and step up to the plate and be the first federation, [the] first men's and women's side to agree to exactly equal pay."