MLB Recognizes MLBPA's Request To Represent Minor Leaguers

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced today that the league is prepared to voluntarily recognize the MLBPA as the new collective bargaining representatives for minor league players. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the MLBPA sent authorization cards to minor leaguers seeking to represent them, and just days after the union received "significant" majority support and formally requested that the commissioner's office voluntarily recognizes the seismic shift in player representation. According to Evan Drellich of the Athletic (Twitter link), the recognition is pending agreement between the league and union on a card-check resolution — essentially an independent verification of the authorization cards sent last month.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark released a statement in response to MLB's announcement (relayed by James Wagner of the New York Times):

"We are pleased (MLB) is moving forward with this process in a productive manner. While there are significant steps remaining, we are confident discussions will reach a positive outcome."

Had the league not agreed, the MLBPA would have engaged with the federal National Labor Relations Board to prompt an election among minor leaguers. Assuming a majority of those who voted approved of MLBPA representation, the NLRB could then have forced MLB's hand in recognizing the unionization. Those extra steps won't be necessary, following today's announcement by Manfred.

An MLBPA official told MLBTR last week the proposed unionization 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 Major League CBA that was completed earlier this year. The MLBPA recently announced it had hired all members of the group Advocates For Minor Leaguers, a move which bolstered the union's leadership ranks in preparation for the shift, which will see MLBPA membership grow from 1200 to more than 5000.

MLB's announcement figures to accelerate the process for eventually 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 in favor of unionization had the PA petitioned the NLRB for an election.

It now seems all but certain minor leaguers will soon become members of the MLB Players Association. It's completely uncharted territory for minor leaguers, who have never previously been part of a union. And a full post earlier this week, Drellich spoke to a handful of minor league players about the process. Drellich noted that players in the rookie level Dominican Summer League will not automatically be included because it's based outside the United States, but the MLBPA is now likely to represent players from domestic complex ball up through Triple-A and plans to bargain over DSL working conditions despite those players not officially joining the Association.

Drellich wrote this evening that both the league and MLBPA believe it is possible to hammer out a CBA for minor league players in time for the start of the 2023 season. Negotiations figure to start not long after MLB grants its formal recognition (assuming it transpires), and Drellich notes it's possible the card-check agreement could be reached in the near future, barring setbacks.

As he points out, the expected recognition comes just a couple months after Congresspeople from both parties expressed an interest in reconsidering MLB's antitrust exemption. Low rates of pay for minor leaguers has been one of many legislators' critiques, but recognition of a union and signing a collective bargaining agreement with minor leaguers would take that issue outside the realm of antitrust law and into labor law territory.

It's set to be a monumental change for the MLBPA, which also joined the AFL-CIO this week. The union's efforts at both expanding its membership and increasing its communication with labor leaders in other industries come on the heels of a few years of labor strife. Clark pointed to the contentious return-to-play negotiations after the 2020 COVID shutdown and last winter's lockout as reasons for affiliating with the AFL-CIO.



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