An effort to unionize minor-league baseball players came together quickly over the weekend, setting up to challenge Major League Baseball’s status quo.
The MLB Players Association announced Monday it has launched a campaign aimed at minor-leaguers following support from the MLBPA’s executive board. These efforts are supported by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which launched in 2020 as a resource for players and to raise awareness of minor-leaguers’ working conditions.
In his role as the Cubs union representative, left fielder Ian Happ was aware of the behind-the-scenes efforts, noting that unionizing the minor leagues has been on the MLBPA’s radar for a little while. Happ understands this can be a complicated topic.
“For these guys in the minor leagues, you want them to have better compensation, better work environments, and the biggest part is just having them be able to have a voice in what that looks like and the construction of that,” Happ said Monday before the Cubs’ 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. “So it’s having the support from major-league players.”
To be part of a union, 30% of all minor-leaguers will need to sign the authorization cards sent by the MLBPA to prompt a majority vote. If the majority of minor-leaguers then vote in favor of joining the MLBPA, MLB will be required to recognize the minor-leaguers’ action. MLB could also willingly acknowledge the union before minor-leaguers reach a majority vote.
Then comes working out logistics, which could take months or years to implement the necessary structure within the minor-league players union.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin voiced his approval on Twitter of the MLBPA’s action.
While there is an obvious affiliation between the sides, Happ said the goal is for minor-league and major-league players to have separate unions and collective bargaining agreements. He added that both CBAs would be separately negotiated with MLB.
“For those guys, that voice at the table, as we’ve seen, there’s been more minor-league teams that have been eliminated and the draft being compressed and all these things,” Happ said. “It’s important for those guys to have a voice in what it looks like going forward.
“This group is as together as we’ve ever been. I think we understand, as the game has trended for the last six years, that there’s more power in looking out for the guys that have less of a voice and there’s more power in getting guys paid younger and being a little bit selfless on the back end and what that means for future generations.”
The key involvement from the MLBPA right now is offering the support of big-league players and financial help for the minor-league union to become established.
MLB has not commented on the union efforts.
“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. “They’re an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field.
“This organizing campaign is an investment in the future of our game and our player fraternity.”
Baseball has been building toward a minor-league union since slashing the amateur draft from 40 to 20 rounds and eliminating minor-league teams while restructuring the affiliate system.
Pushback from MLB seems inevitable given Commissioner Rob Manfred’s past decisions to contract minor-league teams, cutting hundreds of jobs in the process.
“That’s when you kind of say, OK, if you know some of these changes are going to be made unilaterally and without any control and no oversight, something has to be done to make sure that it isn’t a continuation in very quick order,” Happ said.
One of the more difficult components of the effort to unionize the minors is the frequent player movement between a team’s affiliates and players being added to — or removed from — big-league rosters. More staffing on the MLBPA side likely would be needed to account for the potential influx of thousands of minor-league players to the union.
“There is a logistical challenge of, as guys get called up (and) move through levels so quickly or move around to teams, that you’re not losing messaging,” Happ said. “So that’ll be a challenge but I think one that they’re prepared for and ready to figure out how that works.”
Happ believes an increase in public awareness the last couple of years of minor-league players’ working conditions and low pay likely drove this decision. He reiterated that major-leaguers support the minor-league players’ effort to unionize and credited the minor-league side for pursuing it.
“Those guys went through a lot in 2020 (when the minor-league seasons were canceled because of the pandemic), and then coming out of that, a lot of things were put on the table and talked about,” Happ said. “So that’s been a huge push into actually getting the group together and getting them to really step up and say this is the time for us.
“The game is changing so rapidly as club behaviors change so rapidly to really care about the future of the game and the next generation of players, and that’s been a huge focus.”
Source: Berkshire mont