MLB Players Association takes first step towards unionizing the minor leagues, sends authorization cards to players

In a historic move, the Major League Baseball Players Association took a significant step towards unionizing the minor leagues Sunday night, sending union authorization cards to minor league players. The MLBPA’s executive committee voted without opposition to invite the minor leaguers into the union, according to a union official.

“Minor Leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement released Monday morning.

The cards are a way for the 5,000-plus minor league players to formally indicate their desire to be represented by the MLBPA. At least 30% of minor leaguers have to fill out the authorization cards, which are kept confidential, to trigger an election that would be supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. In that election, if a simple majority of the votes — not necessarily the entire unit — support the union, the NLRB would require the league to recognize the union. But the MLBPA is likely looking for, and counting on, a much more significant show of support via the authorization cards. If a majority of minor leaguers respond in favor of unionization, MLB can — but does not necessarily have to — voluntarily recognize the union.

This is the culmination of years of agitation and advocacy by minor leaguers, who are paid a pittance, to achieve better compensation and benefits for their services. While major league salaries are collectively bargained by what is considered the strongest union in professional sports, minor league salaries have long been suppressed below the minimum wage. Recent efforts have yielded a $185 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit and the voluntary awarding of free housing and increased pay from the league. Still pending is an inquiry by the Senate Judiciary Committee into MLB’s antitrust exemption and how that contributes to conditions in the minor leagues.

Minor league baseball players are receiving union authorization cards from the MLBPA, the first step towards potentially unionizing the sport’s lower levels. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

In the absence of formal representation, nonprofit organizations have worked to raise awareness about minor league concerns, chief among them Advocates for Minor Leaguers. As part of the unionization effort, the group is suspending day-to-day operations and the entire staff is going to work for the MLBPA.

“We are grateful to the many people who have spoken up to demand better treatment for Minor Leaguers over the past two years. Without their courage, passion, and advocacy, none of this would have been possible,” Advocates for Minor Leaguers said in a statement released Monday. “Although there is much work left to be done, one thing is clear: better days lie ahead for Minor League baseball players.”

According to a union official, the minor leaguers would be their own distinct bargaining unit, and negotiations for their collective bargaining agreement would proceed independently of the recent MLB CBA.

The union is holding an all-day video conference on Monday to field questions from major league players about the process.

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