MLB to voluntarily recognize minor league players' unionization with MLBPA

Major League Baseball will voluntarily recognize minor league players' efforts to unionize with the MLB Players Association, commissioner Rob Manfred announced Friday.

The move by MLB would formally accept the MLBPA as minor league players' bargaining representative and helps to fast track the unionization effort.

It's also a key step that will lead to collective bargaining for minor leaguers. The union and MLB are working on an agreement on whom the bargaining unit will consist of and they hope to accomplish that by next week.

"We are pleased Major League Baseball is moving forward with this process in a productive manner," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. "While there are significant steps remaining, we are confident discussions will reach a positive outcome."

The MLBPA launched the unionization drive Aug. 28 and told MLB on Tuesday it had obtained signed authorization cards from 5,000 to 6,500 players with minor league contracts, which exceeds the 50% threshold required to show a majority interest in unionization. If MLB had declined to accept the union, the players' association's next step would have been to ask the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an authorization election.

"We, I believe, notified the MLBPA today that we're prepared to execute an agreement on voluntary recognition,'' Manfred said during a news conference to announce on-field rules changes for next season. "I think they're working on the language as we speak."

Both sides were exchanging language Friday. Players with Dominican Summer League contracts will not be included in the bargaining unit.

President Joe Biden on Saturday congratulated both MLB and the MLBPA "for taking this critical step."

Players on 40-man rosters who are on option to the minor leagues have been represented by the union since 1981. The vast majority of minor leaguers, though, have not been previously represented by the union, which intends to form a separate bargaining unit with its own dues and governance structure, such as player representatives and an executive board.

MLB raised weekly minimum salaries for minor leaguers in 2021 to $400 at rookie and short-season levels, $500 at Class A, $600 at Double-A and $700 at Triple-A. For players on option, the minimum is $57,200 per season for a first big league contract and $114,100 for later big league contracts. In addition, MLB this year began requiring teams to provide housing for most minor leaguers.

MLB and union negotiators have had an acrimonious relationship in recent years, leading to several grievances that remain pending. Manfred and union head Tony Clark held separate news conferences to announce the agreement that ended the lockout in March, and union officials did not attend MLB's news conference Friday to announce the adoption of a pitch clock and defensive shift restrictions.

The five-year labor agreement expires Dec. 1, 2026, and MLB could seek a simultaneous expiration for a minor league deal. The minor leaguers' greatest leverage may be ahead of opening day, March 31 at Triple-A and April 6 at lower levels, when a strike could lead each team to keep its dozen or so unionized players on option at training complexes playing makeshift games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.