MLB Players Association Attempting To Unionize Minor Leaguers

The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) launched a historic campaign this week to unionize Minor League players after receiving support from their executive board.

“Minor Leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “They’re an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field.”

The campaign is supported by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which has served as a voice and resource for players while bringing heightened attention to the substandard working conditions that exist throughout the Minor Leagues.

“This generation of Minor League players has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to address workplace issues with a collective voice,” outgoing executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers Harry Marino said. “Joining with the most powerful union in professional sports assures that this voice is heard where it matters most – at the bargaining table.”

Back in May, more than 1,000 Minor Leaguers took their first step toward forming a union by signing a petition demanding MLB pay them for their work during Spring Training.

MLB has previously argued that MiLB players are seasonable employees, making them exempt from minimum wage laws, but a federal ruling in March stated that they are year-round employees and should be paid accordingly. The league was held responsible for $2 million in damages.

In 2022, the majority of Minor Leaguers still make below the federal poverty line for a single person of $13,590, according to More Than Baseball (MTB), a nonprofit organization supporting more than 3,000 Minor League players since 2019 that announced its support for unionization efforts.

“This is a step we’ve been working toward since our organization was founded,” co-founder and program director of MTB Simon Rosenblum-Larson said in a statement. “There has been a growing wave in favor of unionization amongst Minor Leaguers. We are excited to support the MLBPA in ensuring player voices shape the future of minor league baseball.”

In addition to many players making below the poverty line, MTB’s survey of Minor Leaguers found significant issues with housing, offseason support, image and likeness rights, contract lengths, and general respect and fairness to the players.

“A union for Minor League players can address unfair working conditions and ensure that players set the agenda moving forward,” MTB co-founder and director of operations Slade Heathcott said. “Minor Leaguers deserve dignity and respect, and a union will bring that.”

MLB outlined a plan last November that would provide more than 90% of Minor League players with furnished housing accommodations at each Major League club’s expense for the 2022 season, but Advocates for Minor Leaguers determined the plan fell short of expectations and criticized the league for not consulting with players.

The league has also been involved with multiple lawsuits related to Minor League player treatment recently. In July, they settled a lawsuit for $185 million after three MiLB players filed a class action lawsuit against the league on Feb. 7, 2014, claiming violations of state and federal minimum wage laws.

Last year, a lawsuit was filed against MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred over the league’s antitrust exemption after the league took control of Minor League teams, which resulted in contraction.

MiLB players did receive a pay raise during the 2021 season, however, their salaries still ranged from $10,500 for Single-A players to $14,700 for Triple-A players despite it being a full-time job with overtime work.

For comparison, the minimum salary for the NBA G League is $35,000 while the NHL guarantees at least $52,000 for players in the AHL. Minor Leaguer baseball players also receive the smallest per diem while on the road with 50% less than what G-League players receive and more than 75% less than what AHL players receive.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers halts operations to join MLBPA

With the MLBPA now involved in unionization efforts, Advocates for Minor Leaguers announced each member of their staff was offered and accepted a new role working for the MLBPA, and has therefore resigned from their current position.

Due to these developments, their Board of Directors voted to suspend the day-to-day operations of Advocates for Minor Leaguers until further notice.

The non-profit was formed in early 2020 by former players Raul Jacobson, Ty Kelly, Matt Paré and longtime labor leader Bill Fletcher Jr. to “provide a collective voice for Minor Leaguers, to advocate on their behalf, and to educate the public about the struggles that the players face.”

In a statement, Advocates for Minor Leaguers said they “are grateful to the many people who have spoken up to demand better treatment for Minor Leaguers over the past two years. Without their courage, passion, and advocacy, none of this would have been possible. Though there is much work left to be done, one thing is clear: better days lie ahead for Minor League baseball players.”

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