Minor leaguers to vote to allow MLBPA as union representative

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The minor leaguers have received a vote card from the Major League Baseball Players Association to authorize the players’ union to be their collective bargaining representative, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark confirmed Sunday night.

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

Clark said the players’ union was moving forward with a vote because it had heard enough from minor leaguers about wanting union representation.

“Over the past few weeks and really over the past two years, there has been an accumulation of players offering their voices and concerns with minor league defenders continuing to echo and aggregate those voices in a way that we brought so far,” Clark told ESPN.

In order for the MLBPA to represent the minor leaguers in labor negotiations, 50% or more of the players must vote that they want union representation. If more than 50% of minor leaguers choose union representation, the National Labor Relations Board will require Major League Baseball to recognize the union. MLB and MLBPA should then bargain collectively for the minor leaguers.

According to Clark, the MLBPA moved forward with this vote to potentially represent the minor leagues after being cleared by the player’s union leadership. According to multiple league sources, every minor league team across America has player representatives who hand out voting cards to teammates to organize the vote. This logistical coordination was organized by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which has three Player Outreach Coordinators who speak regularly with Minor Leaguers.

On Tuesday, those who work for Advocates for Minor Leaguers will step down from their positions at the nonprofit and become MLBPA employees to help organize their efforts to bargain collectively for minor leaguers.

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 originally planned a multi-year schedule to organize the minor leaguers. The effort accelerated in the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more minor league players expressed interest in union representation.

Public pressure created in part by minor league advocates contributed to Major League Baseball’s creation of a universal housing policy, guaranteeing housing to minor leaguers and teams offering back pay for coaching spring. Minor league advocates organized a petition in late April signed by more than 1,000 minor league players asking Major League Baseball teams to pay players for spring training, with the petition described as a step toward unionization.

“The time has come because the major and minor league players have let us know that the time is right,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s this group of players at the minor league level who have pushed this over the past two seasons and the major league players have taken notice and ultimately decided to take this step.”

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

There has been growing optimism throughout the 2022 season among minor leaguers about the possibility of union representation. Minor leaguers who spoke to ESPN said conversations around union representation have changed dramatically from 2021 to 2022, with more players speaking openly about their living conditions in private and in public.

Marino said major leaguers voicing support for minor leaguers in union representation has played a huge role in their ability to move forward.

“Major League players have a tremendous amount of power in this game,” Marino said. “And knowing that the majors have their backs is really what makes all the difference for the guys in the minor leagues.”

Clark expressed confidence in the past vote for the MLBPA to represent the minor leaguers due to feedback he received from players.

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

Major League Baseball did not respond to request for comment.

Both Clark and Marino said the minor league effort to vote for union representation under the MLBPA fits into the larger trend of labor organizing across the United States. While both acknowledged that Major League Baseball could continue to shore up the minor leaguers, as Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the pair believe the minor leaguers will be better off in the long run.

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

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