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M.L.B. Players Association Working to Unionize Minor Leaguers

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In a major shift, the Major League Baseball Players Association took a step toward organizing minor league players, sending them authorization cards on Sunday that may allow them to vote on becoming members of the union.

Having played for greater than 100 years and not using a formal union, the players of minor league baseball lack formal representation and thus cannot collectively bargain over wages or working conditions. Lately, minor league players and advocacy groups have grow to be more vocal concerning the players’ struggles and have gotten the eye of Congress (and the Department of Justice, when it comes to M.L.B.’s antitrust exemption).

The chief board of the union, which has long declined to represent minor leaguers partly since the interests of the 2 groups might be at odds, recently voted to take this step and the union announced the hassle on Monday. In an email to agents on Sunday, Tony Clark, the chief director of the players’ union, said that the choice to try to unionize the minors was based largely on the “unprecedented momentum for positive change” that players and advocacy groups have created lately.

If successful, an estimated 5,000 minor league players would form a separate bargaining unit inside the larger union.

“Minor leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and dealing conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain hundreds of thousands of baseball fans nationwide,” Clark said in a press release on Monday. “They’re a very important a part of our fraternity and we wish to assist them achieve their goals each on and off the sphere.”

In response to the National Labor Relations Board, a union might be formed in two ways. First, if at the very least 30 percent of employees sign a card or petition saying they need a union, the N.L.R.B. will conduct an election. And if nearly all of those that vote select a union, the board will certify the union because the representative for collective bargaining. Second, the employer can voluntarily recognize the union based on evidence — “typically signed union-authorization cards,” in response to the board — that a majority of employees want it to represent them.

Baseball’s union already represents players as they enter the skilled ranks, similar to players chosen within the domestic amateur draft or international amateur free agents. But once they sign with an M.L.B. organization, the players usually are not represented by the union again until they’re added to a team’s 40-man roster (1,200 total across all 30 M.L.B. teams).

While some players live off large signing bonuses negotiated of their first contracts, many need to work second jobs to make ends meet. In response to Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit founded two years ago that has spearheaded this fight, the “overwhelming majority” of minor league players “make lower than $12,000 — below the federal poverty line.”

Through a spokesman, M.L.B. declined to comment concerning the unionization effort on Monday.

M.L.B., which took over and commenced reorganizing the minor leagues two years ago, has long argued that those players were much like apprentices in fields like art, music and theater who’re working to interrupt into a better echelon of their trade during which they’d be handsomely compensated. In response to M.L.B., the common time spent within the minor leagues was roughly two and a half years. The minimum M.L.B. salary in 2022 is $700,000, while the common is $4 million.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote that “58% of drafted minor league players receive a signing bonus of $100,000 or more once they enter their initial contract. Those players who don’t command larger signing bonuses generally can have very short baseball careers and transition to other careers of their early-twenties, and are truly seasonal employees who’re free to acquire other employment or proceed their education through the off-season.”

He continued, “And through those few years they’re pursuing their dream of becoming a significant league player despite the long odds, they’re supplied with medical health insurance, housing advantages, pension advantages, meals, and infrequently tuition reimbursement to acquire a school degree or other training/education — advantages that usually are not available to most college-age employees on this country once they enter the workforce.”

How much minor league players are paid and treated has been a very hot-button issue of late. Last month, M.L.B. agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by 1000’s of current and former minor league players over past wage claims.

Under the proposed agreement, M.L.B. must formally notify all major league clubs that they’ll now not prohibit teams from paying players during spring training, prolonged spring training or any work period that shouldn’t be through the championship season, which incorporates the regular season and the playoffs.

In 2021, M.L.B. raised pay for minor league players, with Class A minimum salaries rising from $290 to $500 every week and Class AAA salaries increasing from $502 to $700. And this season, it enacted a housing policy under which all 30 M.L.B. teams were required to furnish housing to most players. (Previously, players often needed to pay for their very own housing, which resulted in instances where several would jam right into a single room of an apartment.)

In Clark’s email to agents, he wrote: “Poverty wages, oppressive reserve rules, discipline without due process, ever expanding off-season obligations, appropriation of mental property, substandard attention to player health and safety, and a chronic lack of respect for minor leaguers as a complete (to call just just a few) — these cancers on our game exist because minor league players have never had a seat on the bargaining table. It’s time for that to vary.”

While acknowledging the work of advocacy groups, the union also announced that it will be absorbing one of the vital distinguished of those groups: Advocates for Minor Leaguers. The group said it is going to stop day-to-day operations and that every member of its staff has accepted a latest role with the union.

“This generation of minor league players has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to handle workplace issues with a collective voice,” Harry Marino, the outgoing executive director of the nonprofit, said in a press release. “Joining with essentially the most powerful union in skilled sports assures that this voice is heard where it matters most — on the bargaining table.”

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