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Why is the MLB players association trying to unionize the minor leagues?

More than half a century after Major League Baseball players began to collectively bargain, the first baby steps are taken to include the minor leagues

ALLENTOWN, PA - AUGUST 23: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies bats in his first game on a rehab assignment for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs against the Gwinnett Stripers at Coca-Cola Park on August 23, 2022 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich SchultzGetty

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, there are flickering gleams of hope that minor league baseball will find its way out of the 19th. More than half a century after Major League Baseball players began to collectively bargain, the first baby steps are being taken to include the minor leagues in the benefits that have been gained by the deal.

The MLB Players’ Association announced on Monday that it has launched an effort to unionize minor league baseball players throughout the country, citing the “overwhelming support” of its own executive board. They have distributed union authorization cards to the roughly 5000 minor league players in the United States, a first step toward ensuring representation.

The move comes just two years after MLB took over operations of the minor leagues and pared it back to 120 teams, leaving 43 franchises out in the cold and, at one fell swoop, eliminating around 400 jobs. The amateur draft was cut in half from 40 rounds to 20 as a complementary move as well.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a non-profit group formed in 2020 has decided to dissolve and its employees will be absorbed into the MLBPA, showing the solidarity of purpose between the two organizations.

Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, released a statement saying, “We are thrilled by this development and have no doubt that joining the MLBPA is the best possible outcome for every minor league player. Though there is much work left to be done, one thing is clear: better days lie ahead for Minor League players.”

The MLBPA also released a statement pledging their support to the cause, saying, “Minor Leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide. They’re an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field.”

This move comes shortly after MLB has agreed to pay $185 million, a pittance, to settle a class action lawsuit filed in 2014 by minor leaguer baseball players seeking compensation for spring training, extended spring training, and instructional league, none of which they are paid for.

After hard lobbying, and for that term you should mentally insert the phrase “bribery and corruption”, by MLB owners, Congress passed the ludicrously named “Save America’s Pastime Act,” allowing teams to exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws, paying them far below minimum wage.

Current minor league wages are:

  • Rookie ball: $400 per week
  • Single-A: $500 per week
  • Double-A: $600 per week
  • Triple-A: $700 per week

Beginning this season, MLB has begun to provide housing for minor league players as well as eliminating the much-derided clubhouse fees. But the pay for minor league players still falls well short of any definition of a “living wage.”

For a frame of reference, minor league hockey players are paid $51,000 per season, NBA pays G-league players $38,000 per season, and the NFL pays practice squad players $9,200 per week.

MLB has a lot of ground to make up. This move should be the first step in that direction.


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