top of page

MLBPA Solidifies First MiLB CBA

In September, the MLBPA chose to voluntarily recognize the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players following the voicing of their intention to unionize. This decision came after the MLB settled a class action lawsuit for $185 million, brought by former player Aaron Senne, as well as other former and current minor league players. The MLB’s decision to allow for MiLB unionization is a major triumph for minor league baseball players, a group that previously was legally subjected to labor standards below the federal minimum. The MLB was and still is able to do this due to the MLB’s long standing antitrust exemption granted in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. 259 U.S. 200 (1922). It is likely no coincidence that the MLB made the decision to allow for MiLB unionization following this suit, attempting to mitigate damage to their public perception caused by what came to light in the Senne settlement.

Following this decision by the MLB, MiLB athletes were welcomed by and joined the MLBPA in September 2022. After months of negotiation by the MLBPA, the first ever Minor League Baseball collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was reached. This five-year deal, set to expire in December 2027, marks the beginning of improved work conditions for these young players.

One of the largest topics of discussion for years has been the pay that these players receive while going through the farm system. Most players lived below the poverty line with season salary minimums ranging from $4,800 per season in the Rookie League to $17,500 in Triple-A. In fact, many players are forced to work odd jobs, like serving or bartending, just to make ends meet. However, even with other jobs, many minor league players are forced to be subjected to subpar living standards. Under this new agreement, minor league season salary minimums have increased to $19,800 to $35,800, depending on which league within the farm system (Rookie, Single-A Shortened-Season, Single-A, Double-A, or Triple-A). Not only will players make a salary more fair to their extensive labor and efforts, but now clubs will have to provide housing for all players who signed minor league contracts worth less than $4,666.67 per week. High quality meals are also to be provided before and after each game and workout.

The new CBA brings more than just financial improvements. It adds medical care and protections for players on the injury list or that are recovering on extended rehab stints. For players battling severe injury and facing invasive treatment and surgery, they will be provided with transportation and hotel accommodations. Further, athletes are provided an opportunity to get a second opinion, with the same added benefits of travel and lodging. Yet another non-monetary employment benefit is language classes. English language classes are being offered for all players, and some clubs even offer Spanish language classes as well, designed for the benefit of international players.

Perhaps the largest gift received by these players is not financial support, or even added rights, but rather a restoration of rights. This CBA restores each player their right to their own name, image, and likeness (NIL) and their ability to use this to expand their brand and income. Before this CBA, MLB was able to use their antitrust exemption to limit MLB athletes from participating in these types of deals. This is due to the antitrust exemption created by the case, effectively allowing the MLB to limit MiLB players (in this instance regarding NIL rights) in a way that would be considered a monopolistic practice in any other employment setting.

The restoration of NIL rights for MiLB athletes came at a very advantageous time, as the market for these types of agreements exponentially increased. This market increase is due to the NCAA changing their policy to allow college students to enter into these agreements without being in violation of NCAA policy while simultaneously retaining their amateur status. Due to the increase in the market for NIL by the NCAA, this could actually be one of the most beneficial provisions in the CBA for minor leaguers to subsidize their income.

However, one area where the CBA may have potentially fallen short is in regards to the players’ minimum salaries. Although there has been an increase in salaries, MiLB players—especially in the lower divisions—will still receive an income below livable standards. While the MLB may believe this will be made up for by the increase in other non-monetary benefits, such as housing, meals, language courses, and travel accommodations for medical visits, we will have to wait and see how this plays out in practice. While these benefits will certainly save MiLB players out of pocket costs, it is unclear how much value these other benefits will bring. It is likely that even with these improved employment conditions, players will still be subjected to employment terms compensating them below living standards.

This is highlighted by examining other minor league players’ minimum salaries (specifically the G League, AHL, and NFL Practice Squad). The NBA’s minor league affiliate, the G League, has a minimum salary of $40,000. The ACHL, one of the two NHL minor leagues, is $51,000. Further, while the NFL does not have a minor league, players on an NFL practice squad have a minimum salary of $207,000. While MiLB players are now guaranteed a similar minimum salary as other comparable minor leagues, this does not necessarily indicate that they are being adequately paid. For example, MiLB athletes play in nearly twice as many games as these other leagues (G League and AHL). While actual gameplay is not all that is required of these professional athletes (e.g. practice, weight training, team meetings, etc.) it is exemplary of why MiLB athletes should make more than other comparable minor leagues.

With all of this being said, it is clear that the MLBPA did an adequate job representing the MiLB, negotiating an overall improvement to their employment conditions. MiLB minimum salaries almost doubled and all MiLB athletes will receive much more extensive non-pecuniary benefits. However, it is likely that the MLBPA could have increased this further. That means when this CBA expires, the most important provision to build upon is a larger minimum salary increase.

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.


bottom of page