Minor Leagues have sent out authorization cards from the MLBPA to allow players’ unions to act as their collective bargaining representatives, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark confirmed Sunday evening.
The move marks a monumental move for the minor leagues, which cannot collectively bargain for things like their payments, housing and name, image and likeness.
Clark said that the players’ union was moving forward because they heard enough from the minor leagues about the desire for union representation.
“Over the last few weeks and really over the last few years there has been a build-up of players offering their voices and their concerns with Advocates for Little Leagues continuing to echo and incorporate those voices in a way that we understand until this point.” Clark told ESPN.
In order for the MLBPA to represent the minor leagues and trigger an election, 30% or more players must vote that they want union representation. If more than 50% of the minor leagues then elect a union representative, the National Labor Relations Board will ask Major League Baseball to recognize the union. The MLB and MLBPA then need to collectively bid on the minor leagues.
According to Clark, the MLBPA is moving forward with this vote to potentially represent the minor leagues once it is passed by the players’ union leadership. According to several league sources, every minor league team across America has a player representative who hands out ballot cards to teammates to organize the voting. This logistics coordination is organized by Advocates for Little Leagues, which has four player outreach coordinators who regularly speak with minor leagues.
On Sunday, those who worked for Advocates for Little Leagues resigned from their positions at nonprofits and became MLBPA employees to help organize their efforts to collectively bid on minor leagues.
Advocate for Minor League executive director Harry Marino — who plays in minor leagues for the Diamondbacks and Orioles farming systems — joined Advocate for Minor League in 2020 and initially projected a multi-year timeline for governing minor leagues. Those efforts accelerated during the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more and more minor league players expressed interest in union representation.
The public pressure created in part by Advocates for Minor Leagues contributed to Major League Baseball creating a universal housing policy, guaranteeing housing for minor leagues and teams providing reimbursement for spring training. Advocates for Minor League organized a petition in late April signed by more than 1,000 minor league players asking Major League Baseball teams to provide players with payment for spring training, with the petition described as a move towards unionization.
“The time is now because major league and minor league players are telling us that the time is now,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s the group of players at the minor league level that have been pushing this for the last few seasons and the major league players took notice and finally decided to take this step.”
MLBPA and Advocates will not confirm any deadlines or deadlines on the voting process.
There is growing optimism throughout the 2022 season among minor leagues about possible union representation. Minor leagues who spoke to ESPN said the conversation around union representation changed dramatically from 2021 to 2022, with more players speaking openly about their living conditions both privately and publicly.
Marino said major leagues expressing their support for minor leagues in union representation played a big role in being able to move forward.
“Main League players have enormous power in this game,” said Marino. “And knowing that the major leagues are backing them really makes all the difference to the minor league guys.”
Clark expressed confidence about voting for the MLBPA to represent the minor leagues because of the feedback he received from players.
“Listening to the players and the concern that they are voicing their interest in creating a formal seat at the negotiating table, they give me confidence,” Clark said. “The players always give me confidence.”
Major League Baseball did not respond to requests for comment.
Both Clark and Marino said the minor leagues’ efforts to elect union representatives under the MLBPA were in line with the trend of larger labor organizations across 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 pair believe the minor leagues will do better in the long run.
“A game of baseball would be better for everyone,” Marino said, “when the minor league players were sitting at the table.”