How A Minor League Players’ Union Became A Reality

Like many transformative moments in history, the official recognition of a players’ union representing minor league players ended up happening in a surprisingly short period of time.

It took less than three weeks from the day the Major League Baseball Players’ Association officially announced its desire to organize minor league players to the official recognition of the union.

It’s one of the more significant days in the history of the minor leagues. Going forward, MLB and the minor league players’ union will negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement, which means that many of the issues, such as wages, benefits and working conditions, that have been set unilaterally by MLB in the past will now be subject to negotiation.

So how did minor league players get here? Why did a union for minor leaguers go from seemingly an impossibility for decades to something that went from idea to activation in less than a month, when MLB approved the minor league players union on Sept. 9?

Players for years have talked about how low pay and poor living conditions were a problem throughout the minors, but there had long been a hesitance to publicly speak out or to organize. Minor league playing careers are often quite short, and the fear that a player’s career could be affected was a strong deterrent to any efforts to unionize.

There were efforts around the edges. In 2009, Baseball America was writing about how players were disappointed that their request for a raise in the daily per diem from $20 to $25 was denied by MLB. The per diem bump was eventually added a year later.

In 2014, a group of minor leaguers sued MLB and MLB teams over wages, arguing that they were not being paid minimum wage for work done in spring training and extended spring training, among other issues. One of the main attorneys bringing the case was Garrett Broshuis, a former Giants minor league pitcher.

It took years, including an appeal that reinstated the lawsuit’s class action status, but this year after a stinging defeat in a preliminary ruling, MLB settled the lawsuit for $185 million. That settlement will mean thousands of dollars in back pay for pretty much every minor leaguer who has played in the past decade, and part of the settlement included MLB being required to mandate pay for spring training, extended spring and instructional leagues going forward.

While that lawsuit was slowly moving through the courts, the events of 2020 changed the landscape. It’s impossible to know if the organization of a minor league players’ union would have happened anyway, but the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and MLB’s decision to reduce the number of minor league teams provides a unique opportunity for union organizers to gain a significant foothold with minor league players. In a short period of time, the fear of the unknown was replaced by known fears.


The pandemic meant that there was no minor league season in 2020. MLB left it up to each team to decide whether to pay minor league players a stipend during the suspended—and eventually canceled—season. In many cases, teams decided to make decisions on a month by month basis.

When teams hesitated to commit to paying their minor leaguers, the Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a group led by Harry Marino that founded early in 2020, successfully applied public pressure to convince the individual teams to pay the players. Several teams that had delayed their decision until the last minute opted to pay players. And after public outrage, the Athletics reversed their decision to not pay their minor leaguers. Oakland team owner John Fisher said the initial decision was a mistake.

The Advocates’ ability to pick up immediate wins provided instant credibility with minor leaguers. It also showed that public pressure provided an avenue for minor leaguers to get changes implemented, even if they had no formal right to bargain for changes.

In December 2020, MLB finalized a reorganization of the minor leagues. In doing so, it eliminated short-season baseball and two Rookie-advanced leagues. That meant that hundreds of minor league players’ jobs were eliminated. Experimental rules were also added throughout the minor leagues, again without player input.

If players had worried before that unionizing would place their jobs in jeopardy, they now saw an example of where jobs were lost without them having any say in the decision. The same is not true in MLB, where the league could not cut roster sizes without the input of the players’ union, because such decisions are part of the CBA. In the minors, all decisions could be imposed without any say from the players.


Even when conditions improved for minor league players, they were provided examples of how they did not have a voice in those decisions. When the minors resumed play in 2021, housing issues were not only magnified, but they emphasized the differences between organizations. If a player had signed with the Astros, his housing was paid for. Players with other teams were forced to fend for themselves.

Throughout this period, the Advocates for Minor Leaguers were making inroads. When A’s minor leaguers were being fed sandwiches that seemed straight out of Fyre Festival, the Advocates’ public pressure led them to change caterers. In multiple cases, publicity from the Advocates led to changes in housing.

Before the 2022 season, MLB announced that housing had to be provided for minor league players. It was one of the most significant improvements to working conditions MiLB players had received in years, but even then there was a caveat. Immediately after the decision was announced, married players began asking if there was any allowance for family housing for players with spouses and/or children. That was not part of the mandate, leaving teams to make their own decisions on how to handle those situations.

It was yet one further example of how the players themselves were never part of these decisions. And that lack of input, step by step, helped create inroads for the idea of unionizing the minors.

Every time public pressure helped get something changed, the Advocates for the Minor Leaguers gained new adherents and trust from minor leaguers. Before too long, the Advocates had player representatives in every single minor league clubhouse. They held regular sessions to ensure those players were kept informed of the Advocates’ efforts. Those players talked to their teammates and before long, pretty much any player in the U.S. minors knew someone who was working with the Advocates.

By the time the MLBPA agreed to absorb the Advocates’ staff and push for minor league unionization, the Advocates had players ready virtually everywhere to push for turning in union cards. That explains how the MLBPA went from beginning a union authorization drive to having enough votes to have the union voluntarily recognized in less than a month.

It was a quick finish, but it was the end of a very long process.


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