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MLBPA to Represent Minor League Baseball Players

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

Credit: Kyle Calzia

As employees of Major League Baseball (MLB), the Minor League players have the federally protected right to be unionized and have recently elected to be represented by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

Unionization is a federally recognized right and the way in which the Federal government protects employees’ rights to collectively bargain over the terms and conditions of their employment. In truth, as the matter stands now it is somewhat irrelevant that the MLB voluntarily recognized the Minor League players’ efforts: they have satisfied the initial steps recognized under the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Minor League players have collectively amassed authorization cards stating their shared agreement to unionize that exceeds the 50% required by the NLRB. Now that the Minor League players have accepted the MLBPA as their representative, they do not need to pass through an election, with the next step requiring the MLB to bargain over employment conditions. There is also no question that the MLBPA is a certified union in this context: MLB’s voluntary recognition of the MLBPA effectively bypasses the requirement for an organization to pass through an election and NLRB scrutiny.

This unionization process transpired quickly, beginning on August 28 and ending in early September. It was only a matter of two weeks before 5,000 players were able to successfully organize. Previously, the MLBPA only represented the 1,200 players of the 40-man rosters at the major league level, but this new agreement now extends this coverage to all players at each of the affiliated minor league levels and the spring training complexes in Arizona and Florida.

Prior to this agreement, the MLB had unilaterally decided all aspects of the minor leagues, which included setting salaries and deciding working conditions. The ability for minor league players to convince the MLB to provide season-long housing to all minor league players, as well as being able to organize and unionize in just a year's time, is the beginning of victory for these players.

Minor league players joining the MLBPA was inevitable even after decades of branding it “impossible.” This momentous victory is the result of a foundation set over the past few years by a group of committed individuals who understood the importance of bettering the lives of those who play America’s sport. After all, the biggest goals of these efforts to unionize were to increase pay and improve the working conditions of the minor leaguers. It is the hope that this agreement is the path to achieving these goals. It may take a long time to fully achieve these goals, but this is a significant step.

The implications of the Minor League players’ unionizations has a broad social impact, and is one example of a rising number where employees are unionizing where there hasn’t been unions before.

Notably, MLB’s voluntary recognition of the Minor League players’ efforts has not been finalized and a formal statement is incoming. This voluntary recognition could mean one of two things: (1) absolutely nothing, and is merely the MLB streamlining a process that is inevitable, or (2) a marketing ploy to ease rising tensions. MLB’s actions are quite distinct from an entity like Amazon, but it does not mean that most of the historic tensions between the Minor League players and MLB will simply vanish. It’s relevant that there is broad social backlash against companies that haven’t been supportive of their employees unionizing.The MLB is clearly aware that its product is consumer base driven, and it is unlikely that the MLB would be replaced by another platform. That being said, consumer happiness still drives its business.

A more critical look at the tensions between MLB and the Minor League players points out that the context surrounding the unionization includes major changes coming to the industry such as: that there are no MLB games or free agency signings until an accord is reached, the MLB reported a loss of $1 billion in revenue during the pandemic, and there is also a proposal for a 25% luxury tax imposed when a team payroll reaches approximately $180 million per season. In short, a lot is happening and the tensions surrounding collective bargaining agreements threaten to make everything exponentially worse. If the MLB weren’t as constrained in 2022, it’s possible that they would have fought the unionization, but it appears that most of the battle will happen during the collective bargaining process.

Either way, the implication of unionizing is quite clear: it’s inevitable. It will require businesses to take critical looks at their business model, because whether an employer wants unions or not, unions will force themselves even into the most rigid structures.


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