Major League Baseball will voluntarily recognize minor league players’ efforts to unionize with the MLB Players Association, commissioner Rob Manfred announced Friday.
MLB’s move would formally accept the MLBPA as the bargaining representative of minor league players and help fast-track the union initiative.
It is also a key step that will lead to collective bargaining for minor leaguers. The union and MLB are working on an agreement on what the bargaining unit will consist of and they hope to complete that by next week.
The MLBPA launched the union drive on Aug. 28 and told MLB on Tuesday that it had obtained signed authorization cards from 5,000 to 6,500 players with minor league contracts, which exceeds the 50% threshold needed to show majority interest in unionization. If MLB refused to accept the union, the players’ association’s next step would be to ask the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an authorization election.
“We, I believe, notified the MLBPA today that we are prepared to implement a voluntary recognition agreement,” Manfred said during a news conference to announce on-field rule changes for next season. “I think they are working on that. the language as we speak.”
Both sides exchanged language on Friday. Players with Dominican Summer League contracts will not be included in the bargaining unit.
Players on 40-man rosters who are optioned to the minor leagues have been represented by the union since 1981. The vast majority of minor league players, however, were not previously represented by the union, which intends to form a separate bargaining unit with its own dues. and a governance structure, such as player representatives and an executive board.
MLB raised weekly minimum salaries for minor leaguers in 2021 to $400 at the rookie and short-season levels, $500 at Class A, $600 at Double-A and $700 at Triple-A. For option players, the minimum is $57,200 per season for a first big league contract and $114,100 for later big league contracts. In addition, MLB this year began requiring teams to provide housing for minor leaguers.
MLB and union negotiators have had a bitter relationship in recent years, leading to several grievances that remain pending. Manfred and union president Tony Clark held separate news conferences to announce the deal that ended the lockout in March, and union officials did not attend MLB’s news conference Friday to announce the adoption of a pitch clock and defensive shift restrictions.
The five-year labor contract expires on Dec. 1, 2026, and MLB could seek a concurrent expiration for a minor league deal. The minor leaguers’ biggest leverage might be before Opening Day, March 31 at Triple-A and April 6 at lower levels, when a strike could force each team to keep its dozen or so union players under selection at training complexes playing improvised games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.