In late August, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the union representing MLB players, announced it had sent out union authorization cards to minor league players. Then, just after Labor Day, they announced that more than 50 percent of minor league players had indicated they support gaining union representation.
While the signatures alone don’t constitute an election, it does indicate the majority of players want to bargain their wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Following the collection of signed cards, the MLBPA sent a letter to Major League Baseball (MLB) asking for voluntary recognition from the league. Should the league choose not to recognize the request by the date set in the letter, the MLBPA can petition the NLRB to hold an election.
“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 on August 28. “They’re an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field.”
Connor Lunn, a Minor League Double-A pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, told ESPN, “people have been more open to talking about what’s going on. Before, it was just the Advocates trying to spread the word and people were timid and scared to talk about the issues of what’s going on, and now it seems like the players are talking about it more in the clubhouses or on the field. They’re not as scared to confront the issue.”
### The Advocates Win Improvements
The Advocates, as Lunn called them, are an outside group that formed in 2020 called Advocates for Minor Leaguers. The Advocates organization successfully negotiated improved wages and team provided housing for all minor league players across all levels by October 2021.
As well, the Advocates were involved in lobbying the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the MLB’s antitrust exemption.
The issue of Minor League pay has highly publicized in recent years. Most players make between $400 and $700 a week and are paid only in-season.
Over the summer, the MLB agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by minor league players who sought back pay after alleging minimum wage and overtime violations by the league.
New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, who serves as an officer on the MLBPA executive board said, “We’re seeing how things have worked over the past decades and how things are going to work in the future. We are headed in the right direction. Right now, I feel like there’s way more awareness in understanding that it’s about having better sleep, better travel, better food, better paychecks help you perform at a higher level. I’m happy that we are working to unionize them, help them out.”
Several other minor league sports players are unionized. The Professional Hockey Players’ Association has represented minor leaguers since 1967. G League Basketball players are represented by the Basketball Players Union (BPU), which was voluntarily recognized by the NBA in 2020. Both unions only represent the minor league players in their respective sports.
### MLBPA Affiliates with AFL-CIO, Joins Newly Formed Sports Council
At a National Press Club event on September 7, the MLBPA announced that it had formally affiliated with the AFL-CIO. At the event, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who was joined by Clark, said that the AFL-CIO “together, with our 12.5 million members, will bring our strength to their fights, including working to organize 5,400 minor league players.”
In June, the AFL-CIO announced the formation of the Sports Council, a coalition of professional athletes’ unions dedicated to strengthening union athletes across the sports industry. With the announcement of its affiliation with the AFL-CIO, the MLBPA said it would play an active role in the Sports Council.
Founding members of the Sports Council include NFL Players Association (NFLPA), United Football Players Association-USW, NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA), USWNT Players Association (USWNTPA) and USL Players Association-CWA (USLPA-CWA).