Si Se Puede

“Si Se Puede ” is the rallying cry made famous by Dolores Huerta during her time with the United Farm Workers Union in the 1970s. While organizing food workers has more significant societal impacts than minor league baseball players finding their voice (food is more important than baseball, after all), the changes coming to the lower levels of professional baseball will reverberate for years to come. A super brief primer on the history of organized labor in the minors is short.  Basically, there is no history. All previous attempts to organize in the minor leagues have failed. For comparison, under the leadership of Marvin Miller, the first Collective Bargaining Agreement was negotiated and ratified in 1968. One of the primary motivations for the formation of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) was to combat the Reserve Clause, a clause in the standard player contract the team owners interpreted to mean they reserved the right to renew the player’s contract annually. Simply put the players had no say in where they would play from year to year. Following the lawsuit by Curt Flood which challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption, the team owners could see the handwriting on the wall. The 1970 Basic Agreement marked a shift in player power at the major league level. Ideas such as salary arbitration and, eventually, free agency were brought about during the life of this agreement. These types of contractual rules still largely did not apply to minor league players. The minor league players have been unpaid for spring training and  the fall instructional league for quite some time. They have attempted to get their per diem raised from $20 per day to $25 per day. They earn less than minimum wage on an hourly basis as the clubs. H.R. 5580, also known as the Save America’s Pastime Act was codified and as it amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which allowed minor league players to be exempt from federal  minimum wage laws. There truly have been no lengths team owner’s have not been willing to go in order to keep costs down in he minor leagues. The COVID pandemic laid things bare for everyone as the minor league season was canceled and players were not paid. On the back side of this the team owners decided to reduce the number of minor league teams, and thus eliminating jobs. While baseball wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind as the world emerged from the darkest days of the pandemic, it did shift the environment among the average person to be more pro-labor than in the past. The time was right for the minor league players to step up efforts to formally unionize. The Advocates for Minor Leaguers were able to gain traction and this summer they were able to orgarinze a unionizing effort amongst the players. There would be a process to determine the interest in forming a union which involved send out interest cards to the minor league players, if 30% of the cards were returned stating the players wish to unionize, then there would be a formal vote. During the card collecting process, Advocates for Minor Leaguers were absorbed into the MLBPA. Then came the biggest surprise of all, Major League Baseball decided not to fight the unionizing effort and stated it would recognize the MLBPA as the union for the minor league players. Having the MLBPA as the official union will serve the players well in my opinion. There is already expertise in collective bargaining with MLB ownership, as it will eliminate union infighting which would surely occur if the minor league players were represented by another entity. Having the minor league players simply being another bargaining unit within the MLBPA is the most likely way this will end. A minor league Collective Bargaining Agreement is something which will have to be created from scratch, so it will take time, but the longterm effect will be positive for the players.

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