What once seemed unthinkable now appears almost inevitable.
Last week, the Major League Baseball Players Association sent shockwaves through the baseball industry when it announced it was launching a campaign to organize the minor leagues and adding staff from the nonprofit group. Advocates for Minor Leaguers to help lead these efforts. His first step was to send permission cards to minor league players, who could then sign the cards to indicate whether or not they would be interested in joining a union, and if at least 30% indicated support, others measures could be taken.
Less than two weeks later, the MLBPA announced that more than half of all minor leaguers have already returned signed cards and that it has formally requested that MLB recognize the MLBPA as the collective bargaining representatives of the minor leaguers.
“Minor league players have made it clear that they want MLBPA to represent them and are prepared to enter into collective bargaining to have a positive impact on the upcoming season,” said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.
This news was followed shortly by another announcement that the MLBPA will officially affiliate with the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union federation representing more than 12 million workers nationwide. and that the two will work together to organize the minor leagues.
Together, these steps represent a massive push towards potentially transformative change for the sport. While the developments don’t guarantee that a minor league players’ union will eventually materialize, it’s clear that baseball is now closer to that reality than at any time in the past century.
What happens afterwards?
With a majority of minor league players in support and with the support of their major league brethren, the next step will be for MLB to recognize minor leaguers as part of the MLBPA.
The easiest way for that to happen would be for MLB to voluntarily recognize the union. If not, the MLBPA would likely file for election through the National Labor Relations Board. To win the election, more than half of all votes cast would have to be in favor of unionizing, a threshold that the MLBPA thinks it can easily cross even if some players end up changing their minds.
If the election were successful, the minor leaguers would become a new bargaining unit under the MLBPA umbrella and could then negotiate their own collective bargaining agreement. This agreement would be separate from the ABC that the league and players entered into after a 99-day lockout last offseason and would cover the more than 5,000 players who compete in Triple-A up to the level of the Complex league and could potentially negotiate for the Dominican Summer League as well.
Why is this important?
Historically, minor league players have had little or no say in their working conditions, with MLB largely dictating their salaries and contract structures while denying players the benefits and protections enjoyed by their big league peers.
Players at the lowest levels in the minor leagues earn $400 per week and up to $700 at Triple-A – which equates to between $5,000 and $14,000 per season – which is actually a modest improvement over compared to a few years ago, when salaries ranged from $290 to $500. per week and players were also responsible for their accommodation costs.
Even with these raises, most players still aren’t making a living wage, and since players also only get paid during the season, most have to work second jobs in the offseason to make ends meet.
Having the ability to collectively bargain could allow players to address this and other long-standing issues such as reserve rules, discipline-related due process, off-season obligations, health and safety issues, intellectual property rights, etc.
Why is this happening now?
The organizing drive comes amid an unprecedented surge in union enthusiasm around the minor leagues that dates back more than a decade but has gained momentum since 2020.
That year, the minor leaguers absorbed a huge double. First, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, then in December MLB restructured the minor leagues, resulting in the contraction of 42 clubs and hundreds of lost jobs.
These events, along with the subsequent formation of minor league defenders, brought much attention to the treatment of minor leaguers. Heightened public pressure played a role in MLB’s agreement to raise minor league salaries, mandate higher standards for club facilities, and allow clubs to pay players for their time during the game. spring training, which came after the league also agreed to settle a 2014 federal class action lawsuit that will award minor league players $185 million in unpaid minimum wages and overtime pay.
MLB also faces unprecedented congressional scrutiny of the league’s century-old antitrust exemption, which allowed MLB to exercise monopoly control over the minor leagues.
This leverage is one of the main reasons minor leagues have not unionized in the past, as it could have potentially resulted in players being blackballed, ending any chance of them achieving their big league dreams. .
But now it looks like a critical mass has been reached and in the weeks and months to come, the far-fetched idea of a minor league players’ union could become a reality.
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MacCerullo.