The first collective bargaining agreement in minor league baseball history is upon us, an important moment in the history of the sport, and for the players in particular.
At around 9 pm on Wednesday, Major League Baseball Players Association leadership notified thousands of minor league players that the union had reached a tentative five-year agreement with MLB. The minor leaguers are now voting on whether to formally accept that deal, a process union officials said they expect to conclude by midnight Friday.
Both sides technically have to ratify the deal, and MLB owners may need more than Friday to do so. But with both sides’ leadership in agreement, ratification was ultimately expected, and the parties reached an agreement in time for minor league Opening Day, which was Friday.
The deal — which seemed outlandish just a year ago, when minor leaguers didn’t have a union — provides raises to players and other improvements, including the creation of a formal grievance procedure with access to neutral arbitrators in most cases, union officials said.
Under the CBA, the minimum annual salary is as follows:
In complex league and rookie ball, $19,800, up from $4,800; Single A: $26,200, up from $11,000; High A: $27,300, up from $11,000; Double A: $30,250, up from $13,800; Triple A: $35,800, up from $17,500. The salary increases are estimated to cost MLB about $90 million annually.
The salary increases will take effect once the deal is ratified, and players will receive retroactive pay for four weeks of spring training this year. By one estimate, the CBA will cost MLB about $90 million in the first year.
Per union officials, here are more elements of the deal:
• Players who sign aged 19 or older will be subject to club reserve for six years, instead of seven, which was the blanket number that previously applied to all players. This policy is not retroactive to players who previously signed at age 19 or older.
• Several improvements to MLB’s housing policy. Players will have their own bedrooms at home in Double A and Triple A. Players will receive a room or be allowed to opt out and receive a stipend instead in Low A and High A. Those who spouse and children will be admitted to housing provided by the club. Housing is free for players except those who earn a higher amount.
• One of the elements MLB pushed hard in the deal, and an issue the MLBPA has given some ground to, is the right to reduce the size of the maximum amount of players that can be carried on domestic reserve lists. The union agreed to allow MLB to trim the maximum to 165 during the season, down from 180; and at 175 in the offseason, down from 190. Those cuts, however, may not occur until 2024 at the earliest. MLB views it as right-sizing rosters, believing that if it started the minor leagues now, there wouldn’t be as many spots as there are now. Initially, MLB wanted a blanket right to reduce rosters as owners saw fit, which was not allowed by the MLBPA.
• Transportation: For rookie ball, Low A and High A transportation to and from the field is guaranteed to players. In Double A and Triple A, issues should be addressed as they arise.
• The creation of a joint clubhouse nutrition committee to oversee food quality, and per diem increases.
• A committee for feedback on rule changes implemented by MLB in the minors.
• A joint drug agreement and domestic violence policy.
• Players receive their NIL rights, and the MLBPA plans to create group licensing.
• On medical issues, players in certain circumstances will have rights to a second opinion.
• Different training seasons: The fall training season runs from the end of the season to the Friday before Thanksgiving. A dead period follows from the Saturday before Thanksgiving until Jan. 1. Then there will be a winter training period from Jan. 2 through spring training. During training, players are paid at a rate if they are at home, and if they are called to the complex for instructional leagues or other work, they are paid at a higher rate. The minimum salaries listed above assume players are at home during training seasons, so players may earn more money than the minimum salaries listed.
• MLB formally agreed that there would be no relegation of minor league teams during the life of the CBA. Recession would still be highly unlikely because MLB has signed 10-year contracts with every minor league club, and those deals aren’t set to expire before this CBA ends. But the MLBPA wants to have language for future deals, and for peace of mind.
The interim CBA comes 213 days after the MLBPA publicly moved to unionize the minor leagues. Creating the CBA from scratch over four months was no easy task, since formal negotiations began in November, and meetings between MLB and the MLBPA have been held daily for the past three weeks.
Overall, both sides said they are targeting Opening Day to complete a deal. If Friday passes without an agreement, talks will continue, as opposed to giving way to a work stoppage that would shut down minor league baseball. The players are not about to go on strike, nor are the owners about to lock out the players.
As much as the players want a change as soon as possible, the commissioner’s office and the owners also have some incentives to get a deal done before the season.
Without a deal, MLB could be in a difficult position administratively: teams may have to pay players in different states different amounts to avoid violating local minimum wage laws. Minor league players in 2014 sued MLB for violating wage laws in a case referred to as “Senne” that was settled last year for $185 million.
That case showed MLB that it was not, in fact, sufficiently compliant with certain laws in the eyes of a federal judge. But because salaries now will be a collectively bargained affair — and are said to be set above applicable state minimum-wage laws — MLB will appear less vulnerable to future wage-related lawsuits. (However, during the bargaining period, MLB lobbied various state legislatures, including Florida, to ensure that the minor leagues were exempt from minimum wage laws.)
MLB also had a public relations incentive to get a deal done quickly. As the minor leaguers began to speak up about their pay and general treatment over the past few years, pressure has mounted for the league to do better. Before the players unionized, MLB voluntarily decided to provide housing for the minor leaguers, beginning last season. Many players have struggled to find adequate housing on their meager salaries.
Last summer, members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee began questioning MLB, and the threat of a Capitol Hill hearing on the league’s famous antitrust exemption emerged. Then, late on August 28, the MLBPA sent authorization cards to minor league players, publicly announcing for the first time that the MLBPA had an interest in bringing the minor leagues under the umbrella. this.
That decision was radical, given the union’s history. For more than half a century previously, the MLBPA chose not to organize the minor leagues. Successfully reaching the 5,000 or so players was an effort led by many people, including MLBPA head Tony Clark and a lawyer who worked outside the union before joining the MLBPA himself, Harry Marino.
Marino is the head of the non-profit Advocate for Minor Leaguers, and moved to the MLBPA when the union decided to hire the minor leaguers. Advocates for Minor Leaguers was co-founded by Garrett Broshuis, one of the lawyers representing the players in Senne’s case. Both Broshuis and Marino are former minor league pitchers.
The lead negotiators on the minor league deal are the same as they were on last year’s major league deal: Bruce Meyer of the MLBPA and Dan Halem of the MLB. A leading labor attorney at the MLBPA, Ian Penny, was also instrumental in the organizing process.
The settlement of the minor league case is nearing completion
Coincidentally on Wednesday, a federal judge in California pushed the $185 million settlement in Senne’s case closer to finalization. On average, after attorneys’ fees, the settlement will award approximately $5,000 to $5,500 per player. More than 20,000 players are involved in the settlement.
A small group of players represented by two lawyers raised objections to the settlement, but the court on Wednesday ruled that those objections were without merit. Any appeals to the 9th Circuit must be filed within 30 days. If no further appeals are filed, players can start receiving their money shortly afterwards. Any appeal would likely, somehow, slow down the process.
“We don’t think the objections that were filed have any merit and the district court agreed with us,” Broshuis said. “We hope that no appeals will take place so that players can have access to this back pay that they deserve.”
Samuel Kornhauser, an attorney representing the players who brought the objections, could not immediately be reached for comment.
That judge Joseph Spero of the Northern District of California will issue his ruling on the objections Wednesday, the same day the minor leagues reached a tentative agreement on their CBA, was not lost on Broshuis.
“It’s crazy that these two things happened at the same time,” Broshuis said. “When I was playing, over a decade ago at this point, it was common for six, seven guys to be crammed into a two-bedroom apartment, sleeping on air mattresses, some guys skipping breakfast, even lunch, because they were tired. credit card debt.
“Guys go months without getting paid, even though they’re required to work during seasons like spring training and instructional league. Finally, this case gives some back pay to the thousands of players who had to go through that … and really laid the groundwork for the bigger changes that are happening today in collective bargaining. It’s great to see these steps being taken, and finally, we’re seeing better days for minors who is a major league baseball player.”
(Top photo: Associated Press / Charlie Riedel)