June 19, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery and Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler (right) fight for a loose ball during the second half of WNBA basketball game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Atlanta Dream won 88-78 over the Indiana Fever. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Dream’s Renee Montgomery on WNBA’s new CBA: ‘It really is a big deal’

Ninety percent of WNBA players voted in favor of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, and when the Dream’s Renee Montgomery saw the initial proposals, she didn’t have many doubts the players would approve.

As the WNBPA began to roll out plans and ideas, she thought “Whoa, this is going to be monumental.”

Under the new CBA, which league commissioner Cathy Engelbert called a “players-first agreement,” players will receive higher pay, paid maternity leave, mental-health benefits and resources, domestic-violence education and counseling and more. On road trips, all players will now receive individual hotel rooms and comfort/economy plus seating on trips.

“There needs to be a lot of excitement around this new CBA because it really is a big deal,” Montgomery told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The WNBPA opted out of its previous agreement in October 2018 with a call to bet on women, and many issues players have voiced concerns about over the past few years have been addressed in the new agreement.

The CBA has been called groundbreaking since its rollout, and players across the league have been vocal about their excitement. Unrestricted free agent Angel McCoughtry, most recently of the Dream, spoke on the deal from Russia, where she is playing for the first time since a late summer 2018 injury. 

“I’m so proud of how far the WNBA has come. The girls have fought for many, many, many years,” she said in an Instagram video. “I was the No. 1 draft pick in 2009 to Atlanta, and my salary was maybe about 46,000. As a No. 1 draft pick. You’re talking about working your butt off, playing x amount of minutes, putting your body through so much, hitting game-winning shots and going through it all. And, of course, blessed with an opportunity to have a job, but sometimes you just gotta know, these girls are worth it.”

Montgomery, along with Dream center Elizabeth Williams (the WNBPA’s secretary) are the Dream’s player representatives for the union. Montgomery called the agreement creative and is excited about the league and team marketing requirements and financial investments along with the league now having standards in certain areas – like mental-health services, post-playing career development and maternity benefits – that normally operated on a team-by-team basis. 

“I’m excited because that means there's going to be somebody looking over and watching it and again, making sure that we feel like professional athletes,” Montgomery said.

Along with paid maternity leave, mothers will receive a childcare stipend, nursing room and two-bedroom apartments. Veteran players also will be reimbursed up to $60,000 under the new family-planning benefits (adoption, surrogacy, fertility/infertility treatments, etc.). Candace Parker, L.A. Sparks veteran and analyst for Atlanta-based NBA TV, called the deal a “huge step forward” on air after the announcement. 

After a Rookie of the Year and MVP season in 2008, Parker, who gave birth to her daughter in May and returned to the court in July, had to pay out of pocket for a separate hotel room for her mother and 6-week-old daughter so she could nurse because players share rooms up until Year 5 under the old CBA.

“Things are slowly getting better for mothers,” Parker said. “We’ve made so much progress, but I’m so hopeful, that there’s more to come in the future.”

There also will be a gradual shift to prioritize the league over overseas teams where players have gone to earn more money. Eventually, veteran players will be penalized for reporting to training camp late.

Montgomery likes the flexibility in this area, noting that the WNBA didn’t cut players off from their overseas teams because the league would be investing more money and allowed players early in their careers opportunities to do something she benefited from.

“I do like that the new CBA allows young players to get those first years overseas, because I think that’s important. Overseas helps you start setting up your financials,” Montgomery said. “It’s not, no you’re not going overseas any more. It’s OK, your first three years you can go overseas but after that,” the players have to prioritize.

The new CBA came just in time for WNBA free agency to begin Feb. 1. 

The Dream have two unrestricted free agents, four players under guaranteed contracts, and the No. 4 draft pick in April. They will play the 2020 season at College Park’s new arena, Gateway Center Arena, starting in May.

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