Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced today that the league is willing to voluntarily recognize the MLBPA as the new collective representatives for minor league players. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the MLBPA sent authorization cards to minor leaguers seeking to represent them, and just days after the union received “significant” majority support and formally requested that the commissioner’s office voluntarily recognizes the seismic shift in player representation. According to Evan Drellich of the Athletics (Twitter link), the recognition is pending an agreement between the league and union on a card verification resolution — essentially an independent verification of the authorization cards sent out last month.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark released a statement in response to MLB’s announcement (sent by James Wagner of the New York Times):
“We are pleased (MLB) is moving forward with this process in a productive manner. Although important steps remain, we are confident that discussions will reach a positive outcome.“
If the league did not agree, the MLBPA would have engaged with the federal National Labor Relations Board to trigger an election among minor leaguers. Assuming a majority of those who voted approved MLBPA representation, the NLRB could then have forced MLB’s hand in recognizing the unionization. Those extra steps will not be necessary, following Manfred’s announcement today.
An MLBPA official told MLBTR last week that the proposed unionization efforts would give minor league players their own separate bargaining unit under the MLBPA umbrella, adding that any minor league CBA would be negotiated independently of the Major League CBA that was completed earlier this per year The MLBPA recently announced that it has hired all members of the Advocates For Minor Leaguers group, a move that has bolstered the union’s leadership ranks in preparation for the change, which will see MLBPA membership grow from 1,200 to more than 5,000.
MLB’s announcement figures to speed up the process to eventually get minor league players under the MLBPA umbrella. League recognition would serve as an implicit acknowledgment that the majority of minor leaguers likely would have voted in favor of unionization had the PA petitioned the NLRB for an election.
Now it appears that all but certain minor leaguers will soon become members of the MLB Players Association. It’s completely uncharted territory for minor leaguers who have never been part of a union before. In full post earlier this week, Drellich spoke to a handful of minor league players about the process. Drellich noted that players in the entry-level Dominican Summer League will not automatically be included because it is based outside the United States, but the MLBPA will now likely represent players from domestic complex ball up through Triple-A and plans to bargain for DSL working conditions. despite those players not officially joining the Association.
Drellich wrote tonight that both the league and MLBPA believe it is possible to work out a CBA for minor league players in time for the start of the 2023 season. Negotiations will begin not long after MLB gives its formal recognition (assuming it happens), and Drellich notes that it is possible, that the card control agreement could be reached in the near future, barring setbacks.
As he points out, the expected recognition comes just a few months after members of Congress from both parties expressed interest in reconsidering MLB’s antitrust exemption. Low wages for minor leaguers has been one of the criticisms of many lawmakers, but recognizing a union and signing a collective bargaining agreement with minor leaguers would address that issue. outside the realm of antitrust law and into labor law territory.
It’s set to be a monumental change for the MLBPA, as well joined the AFL-CIO this week. The union’s efforts at both expanding its membership and increasing its communication with labor leaders in other industries come on the heels of several years of labor strife. Clark pointed to the contentious return-to-play negotiations after the 2020 COVID stoppage and last winter’s lockout as reasons to join the AFL-CIO.