Updated: Oct 18, 2022
MLB Structure and the CBA’s Role:
Major League Baseball (“MLB”) is governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) negotiated between the Commissioner’s Office and the Major League Baseball Players Association (“MLBPA”). The Commissioner’s Office represents both MLB and Team Owners while the MLBPA negotiates on behalf of the players. An important note is that the MLBPA only represents Major League players, which does not include (i) Minor League players who have never been on a MLB 40-man roster, (ii) International free agents (before they reach the major leagues), and (iii) Players who have just been drafted. Major League Baseball’s Minor League infrastructure is unlike anything in the National Football League (“NFL”), National Basketball League (“NBA”), or National Hockey League (“NHL”), which has led to the MLBPA becoming the only of North America’s four main professional sports unions that does not represent all of its players.
Because the MLBPA only represents Major League players, there are several important parties that are left unrepresented at the CBA negotiations, such as the three groups of players mentioned above. As a result, the major breakthroughs and compromises negotiated during the CBA discussions do not reflect the interests of all baseball players whose salaries and livelihoods are dictated by Major League Baseball.
Current CBA Terms and Impacts on Minor Leaguers:
The current CBA, which was agreed upon in 2016 and runs until the end of the 2021 season, included several compromises on behalf of both the MLB and the MLBPA. Still, some issues that should have merited more attention were brushed to the back of the agenda. After all, the two parties to the negotiations (the Commissioner’s Office and MLBPA) each have their own constituents that they must first and foremost look after. For instance, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) labor conditions have been dismal for decades, which has been well publicized (examples here, here, and here), and at times can present an insurmountable obstacle for the hard-working young men looking to achieve their dreams. Before the 2021 season, MLB condensed the amount of minor league teams – cutting down hundreds of previously available jobs for players – and mandated higher wages for the players that remained. According to reports, on average, Triple-A players make $14,700, Double-A players make $12,600, and Single-A players make $10,500 in total salary for five months of work. Those salary figures do not consider that minor leaguers traditionally do not get paid during spring training nor are they compensated for any overtime hours, despite frequently working 12-hour work-days. In the summer of 2018, I worked for a minor league team and lived with as many as six different professional baseball players at once, in a two-bedroom home. Almost all the players slept on couches or blow-up mattresses, and each of them made less than the federal minimum wage in salary. Many minor leaguers work additional jobs in the offseason to supplement their miniscule baseball related income.
Yet, the CBA, ratified in 2016 by MLB and the MLBPA, did not mention anything about MiLB labor conditions or wages. It did include, however, an agreement to raise the minimum salary for only Major League Players each season from 2017-2021 (from $535,000 in 2017 to $570,500 in 2021). The amount of that wage increase ($35.5K) is more than double the amount a Triple-A player makes in a full Minor League season. Major League players have the privilege of having the MLBPA to fight on their behalf. Minor League players, many of whom must fight to stay above not only the Mendoza line, but also the poverty line, did not even have a seat at the table.
Current Efforts / Looking Forward:
Without much financial incentive, it is unlikely that the MLBPA would be willing to absorb minor league baseball players into the union. However, media pressure and increased public exposure to the abysmal labor conditions may lead to further change. Organizations like Advocates for Minor Leaguers (@MiLBAdvocates) and the courageous efforts of former minor leaguers such as Garrett Broshuis in the court of law have already led to progress from MLB teams. As recently as two weeks ago, several Los Angeles Angels prospects disclosed details about the Club’s MiLB conditions. Hopefully the Angels administration can follow the examples set by the Boston Red Sox – who are offering extended training back pay and retroactive housing stipends – as well as the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets, who joined twelve other teams in paying salaries to minor league players at extended spring training, and in turn improve living conditions. Perhaps one day.