Minor leaguers have been sent out an authorization card from the MLBPA to allow the player’s union to act as their collective bargaining representative, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark confirmed Sunday night.
The move marks a monumental step for minor leaguers, who have been unable to collectively bargain for things such as their payment, housing and name, image and likeness.
Clark said that the player’s union is moving forward because they heard from enough minor leaguers about the desire for union representation.
“Over the course of the last few weeks and really over the course of the last couple years there has been a buildup of players offering their voices and their concerns with Advocates for Minor Leaguers continuing to echo and aggregate those voices in a way that have gotten us to this point,” Clark told ESPN.
In order for the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers and to trigger an election, 30% or more of players will need to vote that they want union representation. If more than 50% of minor leaguers then vote for union representation, the National Labor Relations Board will require Major League Baseball to recognize the union. MLB and the MLBPA would then need to collectively bargain for a minor leaguer.
According to Clark, the MLBPA moved forward with this vote to potentially represent the minor leagues after it was authorized by the player’s union leadership. According to multiple league sources, every minor league team across America has player representatives who are distributing the voting cards to teammates to organize the vote. This logistical coordination was organized by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, who has four player outreach coordinators regularly speaking with minor leaguers.
On Sunday, those working for Advocates for Minor Leaguers resigned their positions with the non-profit and became employees of the MLBPA to help organize their efforts to collectively bargain for minor leaguers.
Advocates for Minor Leaguers executive director Harry Marino — who played in the minor leagues for the Diamondbacks and Orioles farm system — joined Advocates for Minor Leaguers in 2020 and initially projected a multi-year timeline to organize the minor leagues. The effort sped up during the course of the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more and more minor league players expressed interest in union representation.
The public pressure created in part by Advocates for Minor Leaguers contributed to Major League Baseball creating a universal housing policy, guaranteeing housing for minor leaguers and teams providing back pay for spring training. Advocates for Minor Leaguers organized a petition at the end of April signed by over 1,000 minor league players requesting Major League Baseball teams provide players with payment for spring training, with the petition described as a step towards unionization.
“The time is now because major league and minor league players let us know that the time is now,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s this group of players at the minor league level that have been pushing this over the past couple of seasons and the major league players took notice and ultimately decided to take this step.”
The MLBPA and Advocates would not confirm a timeline or deadline on the voting process.
There has been growing optimism throughout the course of the 2022 season among minor leaguers about the possibility of union representation. Minor leaguers who spoke to ESPN said that the conversations around union representation changed dramatically from 2021 through 2022, with more players openly speaking about their living conditions both privately and publicly.
Marino said major leaguers expressing their support for minor leaguers in union representation played a huge role in being able to move forward.
“Major League players have an enormous amount of power within this game,” Marino said. “And knowing that major leaguers have their backs is really what makes all the difference for the minor league guys.”
Clark expressed confidence about the vote passing for the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers because of the feedback he received from players.
“Listening to the players and the concerns that they voiced in their interest in creating a formal seat at the bargaining table, they give me confidence,” Clark said. “The players always give me confidence.”
Major League Baseball did not respond to a request for comment.
Both Clark and Marino said the minor league effort to vote for union representation under the MLBPA falls in line with the larger trend of labor organization throughout the United States. While both acknowledged that Major League Baseball could continue consolidating the minor leagues, as commissioner Rob Manfred wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the pair believe that minor leaguers will be better off in the long-term.
“The game of baseball will be better for everyone,” Marino said, “when minor league players have a seat at the table.”