Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced today that the league is prepared to voluntarily recognize the MLBPA as the new collective bargaining representative for minor league players. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the MLBPA sent clearance cards to minor leaguers seeking to represent them, and just days after the union received “meaningful” majority support and formally requested that the board of the commissioner voluntarily recognizes the seismic change in the representation of the players. According to Evan Drellich of The Athletic (Twitter link), recognition is pending an agreement between the league and the union on a card verification resolution – essentially an independent verification of authorization cards sent out last month.
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark released a statement in response to MLB’s announcement (carried by James Wagner of The New York Times):
“We are excited that (MLB) is moving forward with this process in a productive manner. Although there are still important steps to take, we are confident that the discussions will lead to a positive outcome.”
If the league had not agreed, the MLBPA would have engaged with the National Federal Labor Relations Board to call an election among the minor leaguers. Assuming a majority of those who voted approved of the MLBPA’s representation, the NLRB could then have forced the hand of the MLB to recognize unionization. These additional steps will not be necessary, following Manfred’s announcement today.
An MLBPA official told MLBTR last week that the proposed organizing efforts would give minor leaguers their own separate bargaining unit under the MLBPA umbrella, adding that any minor league CBA would be negotiated independently of the CBA of the Major League which was completed earlier this year. The MLBPA recently announced that it has hired all members of the Advocates For Minor Leaguers group, a move that has bolstered the ranks of the union’s leadership in preparation for the change, which will see MLBPA membership drop from 1,200 to more than 5000.
MLB’s announcement numbers are accelerating the process of finally getting minor league players under the MLBPA umbrella. League recognition would serve as an implicit acknowledgment that the majority of minor leaguers would likely have voted to unionize had the AP petitioned the NLRB for an election.
Now it looks like all but some minor leaguers will soon become members of the MLB Players Association. This is totally uncharted territory for minor leaguers, who have never been part of a union before. In a full article earlier this week, Drellich spoke to a handful of minor league players about the process. Drellich noted that rookie-level Dominican Summer League players won’t automatically be included because they’re based outside of the United States, but the MLBPA is now likely to represent players from the national complex ball up to the Triple. -A and plans to negotiate on DSL working conditions. although these players have not officially joined the Association.
Drellich wrote tonight that the league and MLBPA believe it is possible to work out a CBA for minor league players in time for the start of the 2023 season. Negotiations are expected to begin shortly after MLB has granted official acknowledgment (assuming it happens), and Drellich notes that it’s possible the card verification deal will close in the near future, barring any setbacks.
As he points out, the expected recognition comes just months after members of Congress from both parties expressed interest in reconsidering MLB’s antitrust exemption. Low pay rates for minor leaguers have been one of many criticisms from lawmakers, but recognizing a union and signing a collective bargaining agreement with the minor leaguers would fix that. outside the field of antitrust law and in the territory of labor law.
It should be a monumental change for the MLBPA, which also joined the AFL-CIO this week. The union’s efforts both to increase its membership and to increase its communication with union leaders in other industries follow a few years of labor disputes. Clark pointed to contentious return-to-play negotiations after the COVID 2020 shutdown and last winter’s lockdown as reasons to join the AFL-CIO.