MLBPA takes first steps toward unionizing minor leaguers

In what could mark a monumental change for minor league players and for Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association sent clearance cards to all minor league players late Sunday night, in which minor leaguers were asked to vote to designate the MLBPA as their collective bargaining representative. ESPN Prime’s Joon Lee reported that the cards had been sent, and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark later confirmed to ESPN that the first steps had been taken by the MLBPA. The Athletic’s Evan Drellich also took a long look to matter. The MLBPA has since officially announced, via press release, an effort to unionize minor league players.

In the event that 30 percent of minor leaguers sign their clearance cards, the cards will be presented to the National Labor Relations Board as a means of displaying substantial interest in unionization. At this point, an election would be held among minor league players, and if 50% of the required players voted to officially establish their union, the NLRB would subsequently demand that Major League Baseball recognize the union. This election would be subject to the administrative process of the NLRB and could, however, take months to progress.

In an email to players’ agents, Clark cited “poverty wages, oppressive reserve rules, discipline without due process, ever-expanding off-season obligations, appropriation of intellectual property, poor attention health and safety of players and a chronic lack of respect for minors. leagues as a whole” as key factors for minor league players to consider when deciding whether or not to provide clearance.

Clark’s email also included various financial data on recent minor league revenue, including gross revenue of $864 million from the 2019 season (pre-Covid-19 pandemic); the recent sale of a majority stake in the Sacramento River Cats (the Triple-A club of the Giants) and their stadium for over $90 million; and the fact that the majority of minor league salaries, ranging from $4,800 a year in Rookie ball to about $15,400 a year in Triple-A, are below the poverty line, as defined by the federal government. These salary numbers tie in directly with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s recent claim. that he “rejects” the idea “that minor league players don’t get a living wage.”

Unionizing the minor leagues would be a colossal undertaking for the MLBPA, which so far only represented the roughly 1,200 players who appear on Major League 40-player rosters at any given time. Expanding the union’s ranks to include the minor leaguers would add more than four times as many members to the existing roster, presenting logistical challenges and creating the potential for conflicts of interest between the roster’s oldest members and fledgling new additions. . Nonetheless, there are surely a large number of current MLBPA members who support the expansion and addition of Major League players; recent retirees (and former MLBPA sub-executive members) Andrew Miller and Chris Iannetta were among those who sent messages to minor leaguers alongside Clark’s message, Drellich notes.

Steps to unionization follow class action settlement that saw Major League Baseball pay out $185 million to more than 20,000 players, stemming from a dispute over whether those players should be compensated for spring training. Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption is also under the microscope again, as bipartisan members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in late June called for the need to reconsider. this now century-old decision.

Major League Baseball has taken steps in recent years to improve minor league conditions, including requiring teams to provide housing for their minor league players. Of course, many of these changes only came after MLB gutted the minor leagues, eliminating 42 minor league clubs in the 2020-21 offseason.

The MLBPA worked in conjunction with Advocates For Minor Leaguers, an advocacy group whose mission statement cites the need to establish “fair pay and fair treatment” for minor league players.

“The game of baseball will be better for everyone when the minor leaguers have a seat at the table,” Advocates executive director Harry Marino told ESPN.

As part of the joint initiative between the MLBPA and Advocates for Minor Leaguers, Clark and Marino announced this morning that “every member of the Advocates for Minor Leaguers staff has resigned to take on a new role within the MLBPA.”

“Minor leaguers represent the future of our game and deserve wages and working conditions that befit the elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide,” Clark said in a statement Monday morning. . “They are an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals on and off the pitch. »

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