This Is Minor Leaugers Time To Unionize
There are several barriers to unionizing minor leauge players. First and foremost, with how little they are paid, there is really no mechanism for the union dues to set up a union infrastructure. Players are too far spread out, and there are language barriers. There is also the fear of retribution from owners. That could come in the form of release of a player or a player not getting called up in favor of a player who is not looking to set up a union.
With salary, benefits, and perks being exponentially better, minor leaguers desperately need that Major League call-up, and they can ill afford to do anything to interfere with that.
That is the case during normal times, but this is far from normal times. From a purely baseball perspective, Major League Baseball is talking about shutting down a significant number of minor league teams. That means fewer jobs for minor leaugers. That could mean baseball will miss out on the next Mike Piazza or even the next T.J. Rivera.
Even with the low wages and poor working conditions created by minor league baseball, it at least creates an opportunity for players to one day develop into Major League Baseball players. Without that opportunity, there is no chance whatsoever for these players to become Major Leaguers.
More pressing than the closure of minor leauge teams is COVID19. Due to COVID19, the baseball season is going to be delayed, and no one can be quite sure when games are going to be played. That is especially problematic for minor leaguers as no one knows when or if these players are going to be paid beyond April 8.
A league-wide initiative has been announced for Minor League players to receive compensation between now and the scheduled start of the Minor League season. @MLB will continue to work with all 30 Clubs on the development of an industry-wide plan for compensation beyond 4/8. pic.twitter.com/Ck8Lv9uuzp
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) March 19, 2020
This is a fine gesture to start, and you can understand why baseball is taking a half-measure when we’re not quite sure when or if baseball will be played again. To a certain extent, this is kicking the rock down the road until baseball needs to act again. The problem is baseball could decide they’re not giving minor leaguers any more than the roughly $1,200 per player, and minor leaguers have no ability to bargain for more relief pay.
Keep in mind, if you were assigned to a short season affiliate, you were not going to get paid until this summer anyway. That is something which will not be lost on Major League Baseball. Not in the least. However, this time, those minor leaugers are not able to get outside jobs until the summer, and there is no Spring Training facility to stay at in the interim.
For far too long, the MLBPA, the entity who should be arguing on their behalf, has failed them as they continue to negotiate away minor league salaries and conditions for additional perks for players. To a certain extent, given the high stakes nature of CBA negotiations, you understand it. On the other hand, they’re failing people they know need help the most.
Of course, it shouldn’t come down to the MLBPA. This is where the owners or governments need to step in to ensure a living wage, but there is far too much lobbying and political donations to ever allow that to happen.
In the end, this means minor leaguers must band together somehow to unionize and get a seat at the bargaining table. They need to do this to get a living wage. They need to do this to ensure the draft is not canceled. They need to do this to ensure teams are not contracted. Mostly, they need to do this to make sure they know where their next paycheck is coming.
Unionizing was going to take extraordinary efforts even in ordinary times. At times like these, those efforts will now need to be Herculean. It may not be possible, but it is something they all have to do, and in the end, they are going to need all the help they can get. To that end, you can only hope Tony Clark either attempts to incorporate them all into the union, or some Major Leaguer steps up and says enough is enough.
Short of that, there are going to be minor leaguers with the threat of no pay past April 8, and there may be many minor leaugers out of jobs this time next year due to contraction.