The Major League Baseball Players Association took an initial step toward unionizing the minor leagues Sunday night, sending out authorization cards that will allow minor league players to vote for an election that could make them members of the MLBPA, union executive director Tony Clark said. to ESPN on Sunday night. .
The potential unionization of more than 5,000 minor leaguers is the latest action in a years-long effort by players who won a $185 million settlement from the league in an unpaid class action lawsuit and have received team housing and increased pay in recent years. Minor league players, whose compensation and benefits are not collectively bargained, continue to argue for higher salaries, which for the vast majority range from about $5,000 to $14,000 annually. In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee has hinted that it will convene a hearing to investigate MLB’s antitrust exemption and its treatment of minor leaguers.
Attorneys for Minor Leaguers, the group that has spent the last few years organizing minor league players, is now working with the MLBPA, which is collectively bargaining with MLB on behalf of the 1,200 players on major league rosters.
“The last two years have been an accumulation of players offering their voices and their concerns, with Advocates for Minor Leaguers continuing to echo and bring those voices together in a way that got us to this point,” Clark told ESPN.
In order for the MLBPA to represent minor league players in collective bargaining, 30% of players must sign union rights cards, which would prompt an election. If a majority of those voting in an election opt for union representation, the National Labor Relations Board will require MLB to recognize the union. The league and MLBPA then collectively bargained for minor leaguers, a result that even five years ago would have been registered as far-fetched.
Player representatives on all minor league teams, organized by Advocates through four player-wide coordinators, will distribute voting cards to teammates. Executive manager Harry Marino, who played in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles, said unionization efforts accelerated during the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more minor league players expressed interest.
“The time is now because major league and minor league players are letting us know that the time is now,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s this group of players at the minor league level that has been pushing this for the past two seasons, and the major leaguers have taken notice and finally decided to take this step.”
MLB declined comment Sunday evening.
Multiple major league players told ESPN they were surprised by the news that the MLBPA would potentially expand its membership nearly five times. The union plans to hold a video conference on Monday to answer questions from players.
“Major leaguers have tremendous power within this game,” Marino said. “And knowing that major leaguers have their back is really what makes all the difference for the minor league guys.”
Minor league players said conversations about union representation have changed as more players have spoken openly about their living conditions privately and publicly. Amid the growing momentum, the MLBPA has provided substantial financial support, according to sources, committing $1 million in 2020 to organizations providing support to minor leaguers, including Advocates and More Than Baseball. The donation paid the salaries of Marino and Kevin Slack, a former Democratic political operative who joined Advocates as director of communications and development.
The treatment of minor league players has emerged as a seminal story in recent years with the potential damages that the testimony of the Senne v. An MLB antitrust suit filed for the league as well as the stories of players receiving wages below the poverty line and living in squalid conditions. . While unionization existed as a possibility to potentially solve some problems, the fear of risk has long prevented players from organizing. Whether it was concerns about teams destroying the careers of individuals or the difficulty in finding coherent leadership among a constituency that is constantly changing, the obstacles proved formidable.
The distribution of union rights cards will prove at least part of that theory. Multiple minor leaguers said players are becoming more educated about their labor rights and how MLB’s antitrust exemption affects their employment status.
“The game of baseball will be better for everyone,” Marino said, “when minor leaguers have a seat at the table.”
Clark expressed confidence in the vote passing for the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers because of the feedback he received from players.
“Listening to the players and the concerns they’ve expressed in their interest in creating a formal seat at the bargaining table gives me confidence,” Clark said. “The players always give me confidence.”
ESPN’s Joon Lee contributed to this report.