‘It’s overdue’; Giants, A’s reps back minor-league unionization movement

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The Major League Baseball Players Association is working to unionize the minor leagues, a scenario that could greatly impact thousands of players who toil each year in the minors.

With no current union, minor-league players’ pay and working conditions are not collectively bargained. The MLBPA said Monday it’s launched an effort to unionize players who are on minor-league contracts.

“I think it’s a great step, I think it’s overdue,” said Austin Slater, the San Francisco Giants’ outfielder and players union representative. “Minor-league conditions have been improving, there are still steps to be made, and fully support those guys in making the decision to unionize and have their seat at the table when it comes to their working conditions, their pay and things of that nature.”

Oakland Athletics pitcher Cole Irvin, his team’s MLBPA representative, also voiced support for the effort.

“I feel like it will benefit a lot of players long-term,” Irvin said. “These guys (minor leaguers) do deserve more. They are the future of our game. So, if we can allow them to play a little bit easier, knowing they have a voice at the table … I think that’s just going to be beneficial.”

While the MLBPA represents players on 40-man rosters, which includes some in the minors, more than 5,000 minor-league players aren’t represented. The MLBPA sent out authorization cards by which those players could start the process.

If at least 30% sign cards saying they want a union, it would lead to an election, in which a majority vote in favor of a union would lead to it being certified, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

An employer — here, MLB — could also voluntarily recognize a union without an election, per the NLRB. Should either occur, the league would have to negotiate with the MLBPA on terms of employment for minor leaguers, who would form a separate bargaining unit from the major-league players.

Slater said he thinks the effort “makes a lot of sense to do now,” citing the increased attention paid to minor-league salaries and conditions in recent years.

In 2021, MLB raised weekly minimum salaries for minor leaguers to $400 at rookie ball, $500 at A-ball, $600 at Double-A and $700 at Triple-A — increases of between 38% and 72% yet still below the federal poverty guideline at some levels. This season, MLB introduced a plan to provide housing for about 90% of minor-league players, who often had to pay for housing before.

In July, MLB agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged minimum-wage and overtime violations by teams. MLB also agreed to allow teams to pay minor-league players outside the regular season, such as in spring training and instructional league.

“I think you’ve seen strides being made,” Slater said. “But they feel as though there are more strides to be made and as major leaguers we support them and their efforts to do so.”

Irvin said players union reps for all teams took part in talks about the effort to organize minor leaguers and: “I think it was a unanimous green light from everyone.”

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