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The MLB Players Association took a step toward unionizing minor-league baseball players Sunday night, sending minor leaguers an authorization card allowing them to vote for an election that could make them MLBPA members. ESPN first reported the news. More than 5,000 minor-league players are under contract with MLB teams during the season.

In a press release the MLBPA called this a "historic effort" that "received overwhelming support from the MLBPA's executive board." Six active players currently serve on the union's executive board: Zack Britton, Jason Castro, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Lindor, James Paxton, and Marcus Semien. The MLBPA released the following statement:

"Minor Leaguers represent our game's future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide," MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark said. "They're an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field."

The campaign is supported by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which has served as a voice and resource for players since 2020, bringing heightened attention to the substandard working conditions that exist throughout the Minor Leagues. Each member of the Advocates for Minor Leaguers staff has resigned to take on a new role working for the MLBPA.

"This generation of Minor League Players has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to address workplace issues with a collective voice," said Harry Marino, outgoing Executive Director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers. "Joining with the most powerful union in professional sports assures that this voice is heard where it matters most – at the bargaining table." 

"This organizing campaign is an investment in the future of our game and our Player fraternity," Clark said. 

For the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers in collective bargaining, 30 percent of minor-league players would need to sign the authorization card. That would then prompt a formal election, and a majority vote will require MLB to recognize the union under National Labor Relations Board laws. MLB and the MLBPA would then collectively bargain on behalf of minor leaguers.

MLB has not yet commented on the MLBPA's efforts to unionize minor-league players.

The news comes not long after MLB agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by minor leaguers seeking pay for spring training, extended spring training, and instructional league. Players are not paid during those periods. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2014.

Several years ago MLB successfully lobbied Congress to pass the "Save America's Pastime Act," allowing teams to treat minor leaguers as seasonal workers and pay them below minimum wage. MLB did raise minor-league minimum salaries two years ago, though they are still not livable wages. Here are the minimum salaries for non-40-man roster players (i.e. non-MLBPA members):

  • Rookie ball: $400 per week (previously $290)
  • Single-A: $500 per week (previously $290)
  • Double-A: $600 per week (previously $350)
  • Triple-A: $700 per week (previously $502)

This season MLB began providing housing for minor-league players, so living conditions have improved, but non-40-man roster minor-league baseball players still are not compensated as well as NBA G-League players ($38,000 per season) or NFL practice squad players ($9,200 per week) or minor-league hockey players ($51,000 per season in the AHL).

Earlier this summer MLB commissioner Rob Manfred rejected the premise that minor leaguers are not paid a livable wage. Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit organization working to improve conditions for minor-league ballplayers, called the assertion "both callous and false."  

As part of their efforts to unionize the minors, the MLBPA is effectively absorbing Advocates for Minor Leaguers, with personnel taking roles with the union.

"We are thrilled by this development and have no doubt that joining the MLBPA is the best possible outcome," Advocated for Minor Leaguers said in a statement, according to The Athletic.  

Three years ago MLB set out to cut 40 minor-league teams. The plan was accelerated -- and ultimately successful -- following the pandemic, which left many minor-league franchises in dire financial straights and in need of assistance. Reports indicate MLB is looking to trim the minors again.

Leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee are currently looking into the potential of stripping MLB's antitrust exemption on minor leaguers. The antitrust exemption dates back to a 1922 Supreme Court ruling.