Major League Baseball will voluntarily recognize efforts by minor league players to unionize with the MLB Players Association, commissioner Rob Manfred announced Friday.
MLB’s decision would formally accept the MLBPA as the bargaining representative for minor league players and help expedite the organizing effort.
It is also a key step that will lead to collective bargaining for minor leaguers. The union and MLB are working on an agreement on the make-up of the bargaining unit and they hope to reach it by next week.
The MLBPA kicked off the organizing drive Aug. 28 and told MLB on Tuesday that it has secured signed clearance cards from 5,000 to 6,500 players with minor league contracts, which exceeds the 50 threshold. % required to show majority interest in unionization. Had MLB refused to accept the union, the players’ association’s next step would have been to ask the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a certification election.
“We have, I believe, informed the MLBPA today that we are ready to sign an agreement on voluntary recognition,” Manfred said at a press conference to announce on-field rule changes for next season. . “I think they are working on the language we speak.”
The two sides were exchanging language on Friday. Players with Dominican Summer League contracts will not be included in the bargaining unit.
Players on 40-player rosters who are optional for the minor leagues have been represented by the union since 1981. The vast majority of minor leaguers, however, have not previously been represented by the union, which intends to form a separate bargaining unit with its own dues and governance structure, such as player representatives and a board of directors.
MLB increased weekly minimum wages for minor leaguers in 2021 to $400 at the rookie and short-season level, $500 in Class A, $600 in Double-A and $700 in Triple-A. For optional players, the minimum is $57,200 per season for a first big league contract and $114,100 for subsequent big league contracts. Additionally, MLB began this year requiring teams to provide housing for most minor leaguers.
MLB and union negotiators have had an acrimonious relationship in recent years, which has led to several grievances that remain unresolved. Manfred and union leader Tony Clark held separate press conferences to announce the deal that ended the lockout in March, and union officials did not attend the MLB press conference Friday to announce the adoption of a pitch clock and defensive quarterback restrictions.
The five-year labor agreement expires Dec. 1, 2026, and MLB could seek a concurrent expiration for a minor league deal. The minor leaguers’ greatest leverage could be before Opening Day, March 31 at Triple-A and April 6 at lower levels, when a strike could see each team keep its dozen unionized players in option in training complexes playing games of fortune.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.