On Monday the MLBPA quietly made a move that, if completed, would shake up the entire landscape of Major League Baseball and has the potential to change the business of the sport as we know it. Minor League players received a note this week that was meant to gauge interest in union representation by the MLBPA, which would allow the association to collectively bargain on their behalf as well as major league players’ behalf. For over a hundred years, minor leaguers have been left without collective bargaining abilities, and in recent years there has been a great outcry about player treatment and wages at the minor league level. In a press release, MLBPA director Tony Clark emphasized the importance of minor league players, saying that “Minor Leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide” .
Of course, nearly every current and former (and future) big league player was in the minors at some point, so by providing better working conditions in the minors, the hope is it will produce better big leaguers. If the attempt at unionization is successful, it is expected that the over 5,000 MiLB players would form a separate organization under the umbrella of the PA. This move to unionize comes at a time when the MLB has been under increasing scrutiny about its wage policy for minor league players, with groups like Advocates for Minor Leaguers spearheading this shift. Founded in 2020, when all of MiLB had their season canceled due to the pandemic, Advocates for Minor Leaguers seeks to “provide a collective voice for Minor League baseball players”. They look right on track to do just that with the news Monday and announced that their executive board had all taken positions within the MLBPA.
As of the writing of this article, MLB and the commissioner’s office has declined to comment. The league office’s initial refusal to take a stance on the unionization of MiLB players is interesting, especially considering the highly-publicized lockout which delayed the start of the 2022 season. It is well known that Major League Baseball has fought, for years, to deny minor leaguers the ability to acquire collective bargaining powers. Likening minor leaguers to apprentices in other fields, the argument pushed forth by the commissioner’s office has been that once these “apprentices” break into the highest echelon of their trade, they will then be entitled to much higher wages. Nevertheless, legal challenges have begun to pile up, just last month MLB settled a class-action lawsuit backed by thousands of former minor leaguers for a fee upwards of $180 million. Now with the PA taking the step to formally organize a union, it remains to be seen how the league office will respond, and if this move will further sour the relations between the two parties.
As someone who has spent the better part of three summers working for a minor league baseball team, it is very easy to understand why minor leaguers are in need of a collective bargaining arm. The chances I would get to speak to players and make casual conversation always went the same way; I would ask “how are you doing? Ready for the road trip/home stand?” to which I would receive the answer of “yea, tired, but excited” in some form. I’m sure “tired” is an understatement for many, with players essentially working 9 to 10-hour days 6 days a week, “exhausted” is likely a more accurate word to describe their feelings. And what do players get to take home after working all these hours and days? Well, depending on which level of MiLB, somewhere between $5,800 and $15,400. Of course, many players receive signing bonuses, which are essentially larger sums of cash delivered up front upon signing of a contract by a drafted or international pool player. Still, large signing bonuses are few and far between, with sums in the millions only reserved for the highest of draft picks. So, for the rest of the minor leaguers not fortunate enough to be taken in the first round, that leaves them relying on their seasonal pay to make a living.
Now, we wait for a response from MLB. If the MLBPA receives signatures from more than 50% of minor leaguers, that would put the league office in a position to voluntarily recognize the newly-formed union. However, the league could still refuse to recognize the union and require a formal vote as well. Certainly, if it were to get to a point where MLB refused to voluntarily accept an all-MiLB player’s union, relations between the league and its players could deteriorate and result in future lockouts or even legal disputes between both parties. Regardless of what the future holds, Monday’s news is incredibly important to the future of baseball and to ensuring fair treatment for all professional players.
Greg Moretto is a Pre-Law Student at Boston College ‘23. He is a member of the BC Sports Business Society E-Board. He can be found on Twitter @grejmoretto.
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 At the High-A level in the South Atlantic League
 Sports Illustrated