Update: Major League Baseball has agreed to recognize a minor league union, after being informed that more than 5,000 players under minor league contracts had signed authorization cards. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the two sides are working on an agreement. Talks have not been going well, the AP reports. Voluntary recognition will head off an authorization election that would have been conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. If a deal is reached, a minor league players strike would be possible; the union would have the most clout just before the season begins at the end of March and in early April. Our original story from Sept. 1 follows:
Minor league baseball players are used to long bus rides, low pay, and little job security. They historically have thought of those drawbacks as the cost of chasing a Major League Baseball dream. Some of those things might be starting to change. Players on the Single-A Tampa Tarpons—an affiliate of the New York Yankees—have been talking individually about efforts to unionize minor league players, and the idea is gaining momentum. The Major League Baseball Players Association took the step of sending out union authorization cards earlier this week, the AP reports, paving the way for thousands more players to potentially join the organization.
"It's something that a lot of people are definitely interested in," said Tarpons centerfielder Spencer Jones, a former Vanderbilt star taken 25th overall in this year's draft. "As we get more information I'm sure guys will get more into it. It's definitely something that interests me, and I'm excited to see what it looks like moving forward." Signed cards from 30% of minor leaguers in the bargaining unit would allow the union to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a union authorization election, which would be decided by majority vote. Minor league players would have a separate bargaining unit from their big league counterparts. Dues would be minimal in acknowledgment of the players' current low compensation.
While the average major league salary is above $4 million, players with minor league contracts earn as little as $400 a week during the six-month season. A handful of minor league players will eventually get the big payday; the vast majority won't. "We've found that 74% of guys believe they’re going to make the majors, and that number is really about 10%. The average career is three to five years," said Simon Rosenblum-Larson, the cofounder and program director for More Than Baseball, which has advocated for improved working conditions for minor league players. Rosenblum-Larson believes a union could help those three to five years be slightly more lucrative. He said the idea is attractive to many players because they've seen what the big-league union has done for salaries over the years. (Minor leaguers get their own bed now.)