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This past weekend, Major League Baseball (MLB) made groundbreaking progress with its counterpart, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). Minor League baseball players have been attempting to unionize for years, and Commissioner Manfred announced that the league and the owners are prepared to recognize the union. This may be a move to create labor peace following MLB locking out the players prior to this season.
The MLBPA announced that a majority of Minor Leaguers are in support of this effort. To show this Minor League players have filled out cards declaring their support, and in order for this agreement to become official, an independent arbitrator will have to check each individual card to verify the Minor League players’ level of support. There are many questions to be answered, and logistics to be sorted through, but MLB’s agreement to move forward with the process is a victory in itself given the history on this topic.
A major detail to be determined if this comes to fruition would be, who are the players that will bargain for the union? Once minor leaguers have a union they would have to begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the league. The goal would be for the two sides to strike a deal prior to 2023’s opening day, but they will need to determine which Minor League players will be a part of the MLBPA bargaining unit.
An important note on the Leagues’ acceptance of this is that Minor Leaguers will be able to unionize without an election. This makes it easier for Minor Leaguers to develop their union because they do not have to go through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process. This could be a public relations move by MLB, a way of trying to make amends with the players after the labor battle that ensued prior to this season regarding the CBA, or a way to gain some breathing room as it deals with increasing scrutiny of its unique and long-lived antitrust exemption.
Many advocates for Minor Leaguers publicly criticized the antitrust exemption as a reason for Minor League players’ poor working conditions and low salaries. There have been talks by members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about possibly holding a hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss the antitrust exemption with Commissioner Manfred, but if minor leaguers have a union and CBA, that would mean the antitrust law would no longer apply to their salaries and conditions and labor law would apply. Therefore, a minor league players union could lessen the Senators’ interest in MLB’s antitrust exemption and help the league avoid that potential hearing on Capitol Hill. The Curt Flood Act of 1998 removed baseball’s antitrust exemption for labor matters, but not issues involving relocation, expansion or the minor leagues, and therefore Minor League players are still exempt from the antitrust laws.
Overall, the voluntary recognition of a Minor League players union by MLB is a huge step forward for baseball and hundreds of Minor League players. Minor Leaguers should feel extremely accomplished over this past year with their ability to get MLB to provide them housing, which is outlined in this article I wrote in November of last year, and now this step toward a minor league players union that has been a primary goal of theirs for years. With these new implementations, Minor League baseball players can expect to enjoy better working conditions and higher salaries, as well as have a voice at the bargaining table when it comes to their livelihoods. This is a progressive step for the game of baseball, and one that will make many people involved with the game happier and willing to work toward building the next chapter of the game.