The Major League Baseball Players Association sent out authorization cards to minor league baseball players Sunday, a move that could start a complete revamping of MLB's minor league system.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told ESPN that this is the first step in eventually allowing the MLBPA to overtake representation for minor league players. Thirty percent of minor league players who receive authorization cards will have to vote to unionize, which would then trigger a formal vote on representation.
If 50 percent of minor league players then vote to unionize, the MLBPA would take over representation and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the players. Minor league baseball currently does not have its own CBA, which has led to decades worth of low salaries and poor travel arrangements.
"The last couple years has been a buildup of players offering their voices and their concerns, with Advocates for Minor Leaguers continuing to echo and aggregate those voices in a way that have gotten us to this point," Clark told ESPN.
MLB recently paid out a $185 million settlement to minor league players over unpaid wages. The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to look into stripping MLB of its antitrust exemption over the treatment of minor leaguers, who often make wages that fall well below the federal minimum wage.
"Without coordinated oversight and decision-making by MLB, it is likely that more minor league affiliates will leave their existing communities for a superior player-development environment, and that fewer—rather than more—minor league clubs affiliated with MLB clubs will exist in the future," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to the judiciary committee.
Advocates for Minor Leaguers has been at the forefront of the charge of organizing minor league players, and this partnership with the MLBPA should prove fruitful if minor leaguers vote to organize.
The MLBPA choosing to represent minor league players is a significant departure from years past, where the major leaguers largely took a hands-off approach to how MLB handled the minors. Should the minor leaguers choose to unionize, the MLBPA's player pool would expand by nearly five times—something ESPN reported is a cause for concern among some big leaguers.
Past efforts to unionize minor league players have largely come and gone quietly, but Clark believes partnering with the MLBPA is a solution that could get the ball rolling.
"Listening to the players and the concerns that they voiced in their interest in creating a formal seat at the bargaining table, they give me confidence," Clark said. "The players always give me confidence."