Minor League Baseball Players are Joining the MLBPA

On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of minor league baseball players became members of the Major League Baseball Players Association after an arbiter officially verified their union authorization cards. The league voluntarily recognized the union as the players’ bargaining representative. This was the last step in the unionization of Minor League Baseball. Here’s all you need to know. 

Why did This Happen? 

Within the week of the MLBPA sending out union-authorization cards, a significant part of the 5,500 active minor league players returned them, saying they wanted to designate the MLBPA as their bargaining representative. MLB knew it had two choices: voluntarily recognize or force the players to go through a vote with the National Labor Relations Board. Either way, they would end up in the same place: with the MLBPA representing a unit of minor league players. 

The immediate recognition of the union also solved an issue for MLB: intervention from the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the league's antitrust exemption. It is unclear whether the exemption or pieces of it were actually in jeopardy. The issues in which the committee showed interest should be addressed in the bargaining process, reversing the problem of outside intervention. 

What Happens Next? 

 The league officially recognizes the MLBPA as the bargaining party for minor league players. The union can now formalize its player-leadership group. Once the offseason starts, they will begin negotiations on the first-ever collective bargaining agreement between the league and minor league players. 

Until then, the MLB cannot change any conditions or terms of employment for Minor League Baseball. All existing pay and work rules remain frozen until a CBA is agreed upon. Both sides prefer a CBA in place before spring training starts. MLB could delay negotiations to force minor leaguers to take a lesser deal at the beginning of the 2023 season. But the MLBPA would have a way out. The National Labor Relations Act requires both sides to bargain in good faith. Failure to do so constitutes an unfair labor practice that can trigger a bargaining order and a ruling by the NLRB's general counsel. If all else fails, the league can go on strike.  

What Does This Mean for the Minor Leagues? 

The main fear from players and executives is that any guarantee of a higher salary for minor league players will cause owners to try to shrink the minors, paying the higher wage to fewer players to make up for the cost. The possible way to avoid this is to look for other places for Minor League Baseball to make money, whether having a more prominent TV presence or highlighting an emphasis on the minor leagues as a stepping stone for the future stars of the major leagues. 

The Takeaway

Overall, this is an excellent achievement for Minor League Baseball, although it comes with many risks.The Minor leagues often see MLB players move in and out of them as they are drafted, rehabilitated for an injury, or placed on the inactive portion of the 40-person roster. A change was necessary because Minor league baseball is a stepping stone to the major leagues. 

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Author: Lauren Washko