Minor League Baseball Strikes Deal With Umpires

As Major League Baseball prepares to announce sport-altering changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association, a much smaller but still significant agreement has been reached between Minor League Baseball and its umpires.

The Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation, the organization that manages umpires for MILB, and the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) agreed to a new working agreement before the contract expired on Nov. 30. The deal avoids a repeat of the labor strife that occurred when the umpires went on strike during the 2006 season after an agreement could not be reached the previous offseason.

The agreement still needs to be ratified by the AMLU body, but union president Shaun Francis expects a deal to be done. Francis declined to go into specifics of the agreement since it had not been presented to the union body, but said "the entire contract got better."

Compensation went up slightly, Francis said, and many issues focusing on umpires' quality of life on the road were addressed.

"It indirectly addresses the quality of hotels, and the safety of hotels,” he said. “Internet access, who pays for it on the road? A lot of those type of things in the contract that when you add them up, it makes it a lot better for the umpires."

The two sides hammered out the deal over three weeks in a much more amicable environment than last time. The AMLU affiliated with the AFL-CIO last year and had a professional negotiator at the table, which Francis said proved invaluable.

The process was a far cry from what happened after the 2005 season, when negotiations throughout the winter failed to produce a new contract and umpires did not show up for work at the start of the season. A federal negotiator was called in and a deal was struck in April only to be voted down by the body of the umpires' union. A deal was finally reached in May and included a $100 a month salary increase.

The newly negotiated deal also avoids any possibility of using replacement umpires again. Though games went on in 2006, player development could have been jeopardized if inexperienced umpires had remained on the field—as many players and managers complained about their work.

"The relationship over the past five or six years has improved greatly," Francis said. "The negotiations were very professional and courteous. While our interests lie in different areas, we went about it in a professional manner."