The players’ union of the W.N.B.A. has opted out of its collective bargaining agreement, it announced on Thursday.
The deal will now terminate next October, at the end of the 2019 season. It was signed in 2014 and had originally been set to run through 2021.
The decision could set up a showdown between the women’s basketball league and its players, who have been vocal about what they contend is low pay and sometimes poor working conditions.
“We look forward to our upcoming discussions and negotiating a new agreement with the league,” the union said.
In an essay on Thursday in The Players’ Tribune, Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, the union’s president, said: “I’m sure there will be people out there who will judge us harshly for opting out — who will say that we should be grateful for what we already have. They’ll probably tell us that our league is losing money.”
She added: “This is not purely about salaries. This is about small changes the league can make that will impact the players. This is about a six-foot-nine superstar taking a red-eye cross-country and having to sit in an economy seat instead of an exit row.”
She also wrote: “We just want what we’re worth. We just want what’s right.”
The median salary in the W.N.B.A. was about $70,000 last season, and the top salary is $115,500. This trails by far the N.B.A., which has a minimum salary of more than half a million, but also lags behind top women’s European leagues and China, where many top women’s players can earn $500,000 or more.
As a result, many players play essentially year-round, heading overseas when the W.N.B.A.’s summer schedule is over. Some have skipped W.N.B.A. seasons entirely, like Diana Taurasi, who sat out the 2015 season while earning more than $1 million in Russia.
The W.N.B.A. has been a consistent money loser. “The tickets are very inexpensive, but even at low prices, we’re not selling enough tickets to run a viable business,” Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., told Bleacher Report.
“The league and its teams are committed to an open and good-faith negotiation that is rooted in the financial realities of our business,” Mark Tatum, the interim head of the W.N.B.A., said. “We are getting to work immediately and are confident such a process can lead to a fair deal for all involved.”