MLBPA sends out union authorization cards in first step toward unionizing minor leaguers

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The Major League Baseball Players Association took its first step toward a minor league union on Sunday night by sending out authorization cards that allow minor league players to start an election that would allow them to become MLBPA members, union director Tony Clark told Sunday night. ESPN.

The possible unionization of the more than 5,000 minor leaguers is the latest move in a years-long effort by players who won a $185 million settlement from the league in a class-action lawsuit against unpaid wages and who have been given housing from teams and have received higher wages in recent years. Minor league players, whose compensation and benefits have not been collectively agreed, continue to advocate for higher salaries, which for the vast majority range from about $5,000 to $14,000. Further, the Senate Judiciary Committee has suggested it will hold a hearing to investigate MLB’s antitrust exemption and its treatment of underage players.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers, the group that has spent the past few years organizing minor league players, now partners with the MLBPA, which collectively negotiates with MLB on behalf of the 1,200 players on major league rosters.

“Over the last few years, there has been an accumulation of players voicing their voices and their concerns, with Advocates for Minor Leaguers continuing to repeat and merge those voices in a way that got us to this point,” Clark told ESPN.

In order for the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers in collective bargaining, 30% of players must sign union authorization cards, which would lead to an election. If a majority of those who vote in an election choose union representation, the National Labor Relations Board will require MLB to recognize the union. The league and MLBPA would then collectively negotiate minor leaguers, an outcome that would have been recorded as far-fetched even five years ago.

Player representatives on all minor league teams, organized by Advocates through four player outreach coordinators, will distribute voting cards to teammates. Supporters of Executive Director Harry Marino, who played in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles, said union efforts accelerated during the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more minor league players showed interest.

“It’s time now because major league and minor league players are letting us know it’s time,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s this group of players at the minor league level that has fueled this in recent seasons, and the major league players noticed this and finally decided to take this step.”

MLB declined to comment Sunday night.

Multiple Major League players told ESPN that they were surprised by the news that the MLBPA may be expanding its membership by nearly five times. The union plans to hold a Zoom call on Monday to answer questions from players.

“Big league players have a lot of power in this game,” said Marino. “And knowing that Major Leaguers have their backs is really what makes all the difference to the minor league guys.”

Minor league players said conversations about union representation changed as more players spoke openly about their living conditions, both privately and publicly. Amid the growing momentum, according to sources, the MLBPA provided substantial financial support by awarding $1 million in 2020 to organizations that support minor leaguers, including Advocates and More Than Baseball. The donation paid for the salaries of Marino and Kevin Slack, a former Democratic political aide who joined Advocates as director of communications and development.

The treatment of minor league players has emerged in recent years as a groundbreaking story of the potential damage that the certification of the Senne v. MLB antitrust suit has brought to the league, as well as the stories of players receiving salaries below the poverty line and live in bad conditions. While unionization was an opportunity to potentially solve a number of problems, the fear of risk has long prevented players from organizing. Whether it was concerns about teams destroying individuals’ careers or the difficulty of finding consistent leadership in a constantly changing rank and file, the obstacles proved formidable.

The distribution of union authorization cards will put at least some of that theory to the test. Multiple minor leaguers have said players are being better educated about their employment rights and how MLB’s antitrust exemption affects their employment status.

“The baseball game will be better for everyone,” Marino said, “when minor league players are sitting at the table.”

Clark expressed confidence in the vote for the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers because of the feedback he received from players.

“Listening to the players and the concerns they expressed in their interest in creating a formal place at the negotiating table gives me confidence,” Clark said. “The players always give me confidence.”

Joon Lee of ESPN contributed to this report.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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