MLB will voluntarily recognize a union of minor league players, commissioner Rob Manfred says

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Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Friday told reporters that the league would recognize any union representing minor-league players that emerges from the Players Association’s ongoing efforts to represent that demographic. Manfred, in a press conference largely devoted to discussing new on-field rules that will be in place for the 2023 season, said the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has been notified of the league’s decision. 

This marks an important step in the effort to organize minor leaguers, and very likely it speeds up the process significantly. The MLBPA announced in late August that it would take steps to improve the pay and working conditions of minor-league players and more broadly work against further contraction of the affiliated minor leagues via the unionization process. As part of those efforts, the MLBPA absorbed the Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which has down a great deal of grassroots work in drawing attention to the plight of minor league players. Soon after that, the MLBPA under executive director Tony Clark announced that it would join the AFL-CIO’s large and powerful stable of labor organizations, which figured to have bearing — in a positive direction — on the initiative to represent minor leaguers. 

Most recently, a majority of minor league players signed authorization cards in favor of forming a union. The MLBPA needed just a 30 percent figure in order to proceed with a formal vote to unionize. Upon the strong show of support from minor league players, the MLBPA formally requested that MLB voluntarily recognize the fledgling minor league players union, and assent by MLB would eliminate the need for a formal vote. On Friday, that assent seemed to be granted. Prior to Manfred’s Friday remarks, MLB had not commented publicly on the union drive. 

The new bargaining unit — whenever it’s formalized — will represent more than 5,000 minor league players. More than 5,000 players would be a part of the new bargaining unit. The MLBPA has also indicated that it intends to bargain for players in the Dominican Summer League even though it’s based outside the U.S.

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