Minor leaguers to vote on authorizing MLBPA as union representative

Minor leagues have received a voting card from the Major League Baseball Players Association to authorize the players’ union as their bargaining agent, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark confirmed Sunday night.

The move marks a monumental step for smaller leagues, which have been unable to collectively negotiate things like their pay, housing and name, image and likeness.

Clark said the players’ union is going ahead with a vote because they’ve heard enough smaller leagues want union representation.

“Over the past few weeks, and really over the past few years, there has been a cumulative accumulation of players who have voiced their voices and voiced their concerns with Advocates for Minor Leaguers who continue to echo and synthesize those voices in a way that reached us up to this point,” Clark told ESPN.

For the MLBPA to represent minor leagues in collective bargaining, at least 50 percent of the players must vote for union representation. If more than 50 percent of minor leagues choose union representation, the National Labor Relations Board asks Major League Baseball to recognize the union. MLB and MLBPA would then have to negotiate collective bargaining for smaller leagues.

According to Clark, the MLBPA pushed this vote to potentially represent the minor leagues after it was approved by the player’s union leadership. According to multiple league sources, every minor league team across America has player representatives who distribute voting cards to teammates to organize voting. This logistical coordination was organized by Advocates for Minor Leaguers who have three Player Liaison Coordinators who speak with Minor Leagues on a regular basis.

On Tuesday, those who work for Advocates for Minor Leaguers will step down from their positions at the nonprofit and become employees of the MLBPA to organize its collective bargaining efforts for minor leagues.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers executive director Harry Marino, who played in the minor leagues for the Diamondbacks and Orioles farm system, joined Advocates for Minor Leaguers in 2020 and initially planned a multi-year schedule for organizing the minor leagues. Efforts accelerated throughout the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more minor league players expressed interest in union representation.

Public pressure, in part from Advocates for Minor Leaguers, helped Major League Baseball create a universal housing policy that guaranteed housing for minor leagues and resulted in teams making back-payments for spring training. Minor league advocates organized a petition in late April that was signed by over 1,000 minor league players, urging Major League Baseball teams to pay players spring training pay, describing the petition as a step toward unionization.

“The time is now because major league and minor league players are letting us know that the time is now,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s that group of players at the minor league level that have been pushing this for the last few seasons and the major league players have noticed that and ultimately made that move.”

The MLBPA and proponents would not confirm a timeline or deadline for the voting process.

As the 2022 season has progressed, optimism has grown among the minor leagues regarding the possibility of union representation. Minor Leaguers speaking to ESPN said talks about union representation have changed dramatically from 2021-2022 with more players speaking openly about their living conditions, both privately and publicly.

Marino said major leagues, which expressed support for minor leagues in union representation, played a big part in moving forward.

“Major League players have tremendous power in this game,” said Marino. “And knowing the major leagues have their backs really makes all the difference for the minor league guys.”

Clark expressed confidence that the MLBPA was accepted for the MLBPA to represent minor leagues based on the feedback he had received from players.

“Listening to the players and the concerns they have expressed in their interest in creating a formal seat at the negotiating table gives me confidence,” Clark said. “The players always give me confidence.”

Major League Baseball did not respond to a request for comment.

Both Clark and Marino said the minor league’s efforts to vote for union representation under the MLBPA are consistent with the broader trend of union organization in the United States. While both acknowledged that Major League Baseball could continue to consolidate the minor leagues, as Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the two believe the minor leagues will fare better over the long term.

“The game of baseball will be better for everyone,” Marino said, “when minor league players sit at the table.”

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34479699/sources-minor-leaguers-vote-authorizing-mlbpa-union-representative Minor leaguers to vote on authorizing MLBPA as union representative

Emma Bowman

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