We’re seeing a historic alignment, as the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) is officially affiliating with the AFL-CIO as it continues an unprecedented effort to move past MLB ranks and unionize Minor League Baseball players.
Though the MLBPA has been around since 1953 and recognized as a union since 1966–the beginning of the Marvin Miller era–it has never made a move to also represent Minor League Baseball players, now numbering 5,400 or so. Late last month the MLBPA announced a drive to represent MILB players, a process beginning with the distribution of union authorization forms. Once 30 percent of the players return the union authorization forms–a threshold easily met already, with some 50 percent already approving–the next step is a full vote of all MiLB players. If approved at that point by a majority of players, they would become members of the MLBPA–not a separate MiLB union–and recognized as members by the National Labor Relations Board, as well as MLB.
The announcement of the new affiliation was made during an appearance by AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark before the National Press Club.
“The MLBPA has a proud, 56-year history of success rooted in unity and a highly engaged membership,” Clark said. “We look forward to bringing that history and experience to bear as a more formal part of the movement.”
“The MLBPA and every single one of its 1,200 players have a home in our movement because this union understands and lives the meaning of the word solidarity by leveraging the power of sports and helping others,” Shuler said. “Together, with our 12.5 million members, we will bring our strength to their fights, including working to organize 5,400 minor league players.”
The new relationship will also spill over into other areas of the sports-entertainment industry. Hailing the new partnership was the 160,000-member International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees via a statement from President Matthew Loeb, also a vice president of the AFL-CIO:
Many IATSE members are involved in roles behind the camera or other aspects of broadcasting, webcasting and staging Major League Baseball games. We have common interests with major league players as workers employed in the sports world.
For example, many IATSE members were denied work by the baseball owners’ 99-day lockout in the Spring, just as the players who should have been on the field were denied work because of the actions of the owners.
Another example, during the pandemic some regional sports networks tried to cut back on the way baseball was televised. Rather than expanding coverage at a time when the fans were barred from the ballparks, some networks tried use Covid-19 as an excuse to reduce the number of crews covering the game.
Besides the effort to unionize MiLB players, the MLBPA will play an active role in the AFL-CIO’s Sports Council, a working group of professional athletes’ unions founded to align interests in areas of common concern with service, hospitality and other workers who support the professional sports industries.
The Sports Council founding unions include the NFL Players Association, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association, the United Soccer League Players Association-CWA, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association and the newly organized United Football Players Association-USW.
We are in a renaissance of the union movement, as workers from the likes of Starbucks and Amazon lead efforts to unionize their workplaces — with some complicated undercurrents, to be sure. MLB’s relationship with the MLBPA is frayed after 2021’s lockout, but in many ways the efforts to unionize MiLB players mirrors unionization efforts in other industries, moves that have broad implications for MLB, its sponsors and its branding. What many see as the inevitable unionization of Minor League Baseball will lead to a whole new operating environment for MiLB–with no one unaffected.
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