That’s what unionization means

On Wednesday, an arbitrator is expected to formally verify union authorization cards from thousands of minor league players — the final step in minor league baseball’s astonishingly rapid unionization. Here, Alden Gonzalez, Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers break down how we got here and what it all means.

Over the weekend, Major League Baseball decided to voluntarily recognize minor league unions. Why?
Within a week of the MLB Players Association issuing union authorization cards, most of the 5,500 active minor league players replied that they would like to appoint the MLBPA as their negotiator. At the time, Major League Baseball knew it had two options: voluntarily admit it or force players to vote through the National Labor Relations Board. Both outcomes will end in the same place: MLBPA for a minor league player.

The union’s immediate recognition also addresses a lingering issue in Major League Baseball: the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interference with the league’s antitrust immunity. Whether the immunity, or part of it, is actually at risk is unclear. The specter of congressional engagement — and the grandstanding potential that Capitol Hill brings — creates a big unknown for the coalition. Issues of interest to the committee should be resolved during the negotiation process, eliminating the hassle of external interference.

How did Commissioner Rob Manfred make this decision? How involved are MLB owners?
Remember, Manfred is a labor attorney. He understands the mechanics of baseball’s collective bargaining as well as anyone, and has bargained not only with the MLBPA but with the major and minor league umpires’ unions. He recognized the stakes, consulted with the owners and made a decision.

It’s not made in a vacuum, though. It has the input and approval of the owner and the owner is aware of the situation. League or no league, minor league changes are coming after the league pays $185 million to settle the class-action Senne v. MLB lawsuit. Minor league players will now be paid for spring training as part of the settlement. Teams must abide by wage and hour laws — some of which, without collective bargaining agreements with minor league unions, could result in A-level players in states like California being paid more than AAA players in other states.

It’s another case where the minor league unions are helping to eliminate a problem — more logistical than anything — that could cause panic in MLB.

What happens next?
Major League Baseball’s minor league unit is a formality, far from reality, after a check-off agreement was reached on Saturday. If an arbitrator validates the union authorization card as expected on Wednesday, the MLBPA will be recognized by the league as a bargaining tool for minor league players. The union will then formally set up its player leadership group.

Come the offseason, the players, led by Bruce Meyer, chief negotiator for the major league’s new base deal, and the league, led by Meyer’s opponent, Dan Hallam, will begin the first collective negotiations between the two sides. Agreement to be negotiated. League and minor league players.

Until then, Major League Baseball can no longer unilaterally change any terms or conditions of employment for minor league baseball. Union lawyer Eugene Freedman, who has followed the labor negotiations closely, said all existing work and pay rules remained largely frozen until the CBA deal was reached. Technically, the two sides could agree on a temporary policy, but that would hinder employers’ influence, so it’s unlikely that any major changes will happen until CBA discussions begin.

Both sides hope to arrange the CBA before spring training begins. As a tactic that MLBPA has often accused of exploiting last offseason, MLB could delay negotiations to force the minor leagues to start the 2023 season with a smaller deal or the status quo. But Friedman said the MLBPA will have recourse. The National Labor Relations Act requires both parties to bargain in good faith, and failure to do so constitutes unfair labor practices that may trigger a negotiating order and an injunction from the NLRB’s General Counsel.

If that doesn’t work, a strike is always a nuclear option, although of course it will require the solidarity of a group of more than 5,000 members, most of whom probably cannot afford to lose their jobs.

What do minor league players ask for in CBA discussions?
The main focus for minor league players as they build collective bargaining agreements from scratch is expected to be salary. Currently, the vast majority of players earn between $400 and $700 a week. It is not impossible that they will seek to increase this number. If you assume that minor leagues earn about $12,000 per season on average, and that 180 teams are on the domestic roster at any given time, tripling the salary would cost each major league team an additional $432 per year Ten thousand U.S. dollars.

That being said, other issues, such as training facilities at minor league stadiums, team-allocated meals and travel conditions, are likely to prove sizable in the talks. The ability to write a brand new CBA gives parties plenty of leeway to express what is most important to them. For example, when discussing a new base agreement with the MLBPA’s major league unit last winter, the league proposed the right to change the domestic reserve roster, which would limit the number of players who can be in team affiliates or complexes. Now, the issue is expected to be part of discussions with minor league units, as the number of jobs available is especially important for this type of player.

Why did the minor leagues decide now is the time to unionize?
Years of work culminated in a well-thought-out plan that came to fruition when the MLB Players Association came to the rescue — and provided a runway for actually doing the work.

While minor league players for generations have been paid well below a living wage, the origins of the current action can be traced back to June 24, 2016, when a bill called the Save America Amusement Act was introduced in Congress. Widely ridiculed for waiving MLB’s minimum wage and overtime laws when the league already pays less than the minimum wage and doesn’t provide overtime, the bill quickly disappeared. But it resurfaced in 2018 as part of a larger spending bill and was written into law, angering players who already felt abused.

Over the next few years, groups such as minor league advocates and not just baseball will form and begin using social media to highlight low wages and substandard living and working conditions in minor leagues. The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season has energized the team even more, and the relationship between the two continues to strengthen as the MLBPA pledged $1 million to advocacy groups. Continued pressure on players over housing has prompted the league to commit to housing all players starting this season after the 2021 season. That victory showed players the potential for collective action and accelerated a more formal organizational process last year: the emergence of player leaders who can act as conduits for information.

As MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said last week: “We have the right player, the right time, the right climate.”

Instead of forming their own union, minor league players decided to partner with the MLBPA. Why?
Starting a union from scratch can be very difficult. Instead, minor league players have found logical partners in the MLBPA. The union has the experience, resources and legitimacy — backed by major league players, and minor league players see it as their best bet. Every minor league player wants to be a major league player, and being a member of the union that represents them is a reality that organizational efforts help create.

How do MLB players feel about the change?
Of course, there will always be some older veterans who think minor league players should struggle without union support — as those players have to do — but in recent conversations with a dozen players, ESPN found a huge majority in favor of it.

“I think it’s good that they have a real leg to stand on,” one veteran said over the weekend. “Think about what those players did for us 50 years ago and how much money we make now. No envy at all. I mean, if these guys can bargain and buy better facilities individually, it’s worth it. Anything No DI school should have a better workout facility than a minor league team.”

What challenges does MLBPA face in this new reality?
a lot of. Foremost is integrating more than 5,000 new low-wage members into an existing union that already represents 1,200 high-wage members. Quadrupling membership will only cause problems in numbers.

A common question: how will minor league players earn a fraction of what major league players do, how will they pay the major league’s $85 per day in union dues? The answer: If players do pay their dues — which is not certain — they’ll be a fraction of the big leagues. One obvious way for unions to cover costs is group licensing. Players understand that the bigger the minor leagues, the better the chance for the union to make money. Just as the union gets a cut every time a major league player’s likeness is used on trading cards, video games, apparel, they can bargain at a time when: the collective marketing power of players — especially those seen as future stars of players and seen on top prospect lists – should pave the way for a slew of deals, making the union’s growth a worthwhile proposition.

What does this mean for the minor leagues?
The concern among some player and player development executives is that any guarantees of higher salaries for minor league players will prompt owners to try to downsize the minors — paying those salaries to fewer players to cover the cost.

Of course, a potential way to avoid this is to find other places to make money for the minor leagues. Does that mean the minor leagues have a stronger TV presence? Or a renewed emphasis on minor league ball as a breeding ground for future major league stars? Minor league baseball is no small business. Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive just bought the AAA Sacramento River Cats and their stadium for $90 million. How does it become a better business for MLB?

If they don’t know the answer to that question, of course, there may be fewer teams in the end. But for now, it’s worth remembering that as part of the league’s restructuring ahead of the 2021 season, in which the league got rid of 42 teams and the remaining 120 teams signed 10-year professional development licenses with MLB , is expected to ensure they remain affiliates until 2030. Beyond that, negotiating the number of jobs on the domestic roster — expected to be part of negotiations this offseason — could at least give players a little bit of control over their employment. False doomsday predictions are often accompanied by change, and the demise of the minor leagues is not imminent.

That being said, given how only a small percentage of minor league players make it to the majors, one might argue that this is already an inefficient system in a sport where optimization is a priority. With many owners unhappy with the current structure of the minor leagues, seeing them as the possibility of purely developmental products – so expect more players to be assigned to complexes where the organization can retain the best coaches, rather than farm teams all over the country – This is not a totally outlandish result. How likely is it that the next few years will answer.

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