The MLBPA sends out union authorization cards in the first step towards forming small labor unions

The Major League Baseball Players Association took an initial step toward forming minor league leagues Sunday night, sending out power of attorney cards allowing minor league players to vote for an election that could make them members of the MLBPA.

“Young Players Association represents the future of our game and they deserve the wages and working conditions that suit elite athletes who enjoy the millions of baseball fans across the country. They are an important part of our fraternity. And we want to help them achieve their goals within the world,” Players Association CEO Tony Clark said Monday in a statement. And off the field.”

A potential syndicate of more than 5,000 minor leagues is the latest measure in a years-long effort by players who won a $185 million settlement from the league in an unpaid class action lawsuit, obtained housing from teams and increased their salaries in recent years. Minor league players, whose compensation and benefits are not collectively bargained for, still argue for higher salaries, which for the vast majority range from about $5,000 to $14,000 a year. Furthermore, the Senate Judiciary Committee has suggested that it will call a hearing to explore MLB’s antitrust exemption and its treatment of junior linkers.

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tweet on Monday: “I welcome this move by the MLBPA.”

The Minor Leaguers, the group that has spent recent years organizing minor league players, is now working with the MLBPA, which negotiates collectively with the MLB on behalf of the 1,200 players on the major league rosters.

“The past few years have been a horde of players giving their voices and their concerns, with minor league defenders continuing to chant and aggregate those voices in a way that got us to this point,” Clark told ESPN.

In order for the MLBPA to represent the minor league in collective bargaining, 30% of players need to sign union authorization cards, which could lead to an election. If the majority of those voting in the election choose union representation, the National Labor Relations Board will require the MLB to recognize the union. Then, the league and the MLBPA will negotiate collectively with the minor leagues, an outcome that five years ago would have been recorded as far-fetched.

Player representatives in all minor league teams, organized by defenders through four coordinators to communicate with the players, will distribute voting cards to their teammates. Lawyers executive Harry Marino, who played in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Baltimore Orioles, said the union’s efforts accelerated during the 2021 and 2022 seasons as more minor league players showed interest.

On Monday, Marino said in a statement: “This generation of minor league players has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to tackle workplace issues with a collective voice. Joining the most powerful federation in professional sports ensures that voice is heard where it matters most — at the bargaining table.”

MLB declined to comment Sunday night.

The MLBPA’s executive board, made up of leadership members and team representatives, approved unopposed the union’s campaign to incorporate minor league players in Friday’s call. The rank and file of the union was not informed of the plan, with several major league players telling ESPN they were surprised by the news that the MLBPA is likely to expand its membership by about five times. The federation plans to hold a video conference on Monday to answer players’ questions.

Minor League players said conversations about union representation have shifted as more players have spoken out about their living conditions in private and public. Amid the growing momentum, the MLBPA has provided significant financial support, according to sources, committing $1 million in 2020 to organizations that provide support to minor leagues, including defenders and more than baseball. The donation paid the salaries of Marino and Kevin Slack, a former Democratic political activist who joined Advocates as Director of Communications and Development.

The treatment of minor league players has emerged as a main story in recent years with potential damages presented by Senne v. MLB League In addition to the stories of players who receive salaries below the poverty line and live in poor conditions. Although guilds exist as a possibility to address some of the issues, fear of risk has prevented players from organizing for a long time. Whether it’s concerns about teams ruining people’s careers or the difficulty of finding consistent leadership among an ever-changing audience, the obstacles have proven formidable.

Distributing union authorization cards will put at least part of that theory to the test. Several junior players said players are becoming more educated about their labor rights and how the MLB antitrust waiver affects their employment status.

“Baseball will be better for everyone, when the minor league players are sitting at the table,” Marino said.

Clarke expressed confidence in passing the vote for the MLBPA to represent the two minor leagues due to the feedback he’s received from players.

“Hearing the players and the concerns they have expressed in their interest in finding an official seat at the negotiating table gives me confidence,” Clark said. “The players always give me confidence.”

John Lee of ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.