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Why the MLBPA pushing to unionize minor league players is so important for baseball

As the working and living conditions of minor league baseball players has become more and more public, the MLBPA is positioning itself to do something about it.

NEW YORK — The Major League Baseball Players Association passed out union authorization cards to minor league baseball players this week, attempting to to unionize minor leaguers, reversing decades of opposition.

MLBPA head Tony Clark is confident that at least 30% of minor league players will sign recently distributed union authorization cards in the coming days and weeks, paving the way for thousands more players to potentially join the organization.

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.

On the Locked On Sports Today podcast, Locked On MLB Prospects host and minor league expert Lindsay Crosby joined Peter Bukowski to break down why this is happening and why it's so important for minor league players.

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The typical fan may not even know that minor league baseball players weren't even a part of the MLBPA. More are probably unaware of the circumstances and conditions that many minor league baseball players face.

"Think about the last two years and a lot of the conversation around minor league baseball has been the substandard wages," Crosby said on Locked On Sports Today. "Most guys in the minor leagues make $500 or $600 dollars a week. We've had conversations about the housing situation, four, five guys to the same bedroom, sleeping on air mattresses or in cars. We've had conversations about guys not getting paid in the offseason or minor league contraction where they went down to 120 teams and just eliminated minor league baseball in 30 or 40 cities across the country."

"Forming a union and being able to collectively bargain gets around all of those issues and allows minor league baseball players to advocate for themselves, for each other, and ultimately to get paid a living wage to play baseball," Crosby continued.

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.

“The working conditions facing these players have been nothing short of offensive,” union head Tony Clark wrote in a letter Sunday to player agents. “Poverty wages, oppressive reserve rules, discipline without due process, ever-expanding offseason obligations, appropriation of intellectual property, substandard attention to player health and safety, and a chronic lack of respect for minor leaguers as a whole (to name just a few) — these cancers on our game exist because minor league players have never had a seat at the bargaining table. It’s time for that to change.”

So how would this work and what will the connection be between MLB players and minor league players?

"The Major League Baseball Players Association would represent both the Major League players and the minor league players, but their contracts would be bargained separately," Crosby said. "And so when you're bargaining from the same unit, you're able to, in essence, share notes and form a strategy. So, for instance, if Major League players are negotiating a reduction in the amount of service time required to get a season, the minor league players can then negotiate some sort of incentive for teammates to call their players up early. The idea is by being able to coordinate everything, you can better have a cohesive strategy and you can work around whatever loophole management's trying to do to deny this thing to the players."

Why did it take so long to get here?

"I think a few reasons," Crosby said. "The first one is obviously Major League Baseball has this antitrust exemption. They've had it for over 100 years, and there's never really been a lot of momentum to fix it. But in the last few years, especially fueled by the 2020 contraction of the minor leaguers, you've seen Congress get involved, you've seen letters, you've seen threats of hearings, and you've seen the Supreme Court actually address the existence of the antitrust exemption and say that they don't think it should exist."

"And so all of the movement that you've seen positively for the players, whether it's salaries, whether it's living conditions, all of that came because Major League Baseball was trying to preemptively get out in front of the public groundswell of support for minor leaguers and against the major league organization in management," Crosby said. "And I think the lockout kind of exacerbated a lot of this, at least Major League Baseball see that no, the average fan is more aware of these poor conditions and they're not going to be as accepting of ice continuing to do this, and we're going to have to fix it. And ultimately, they haven't done enough."

Crosby said if 30% of unionization cards are returned, then an election can be held to declare a union. However, Crosby said he has spoken to people who expect an overwhelming majority of cards to be returned, likely paving the way for Major League Baseball to voluntarily recognize the union.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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