Most American baseball fans watching their favorite major league teams don’t think too much about the minor league players. If they do, it’s usually that these athletes are just being groomed for the high salaried majors.
But minor league players are among the most exploited people in the country with salaries that can be as low as $10,000 for the full season which amounts to less than the federal minimum. Their working conditions are miserable; up until this year the owners did not provide housing and players had to scrounge around looking to find shelter. When they are on the road, they endure long bus rides (no jet planes) and lousy meals. Most don’t make it to the majors and wind up with nothing when they hit their thirties and are let go for younger players. The teams used to be called “farm teams.” They are owned by major league organizations who have enjoyed record-breaking profits through lucrative TV contracts and as fans are rapidly coming back to the stadiums as the Covid epidemic recedes.
But the situation for 5,000 minor league players is about to change. In mid-September, they voted overwhelmingly to join the union that represents the major league players, the Major League Baseball Association. The union victory comes on the heels of the settlement of an eight-year-old federal lawsuit in August in which the owners were sued by minor leaguers over widespread violations of minimum wage laws. The settlement will result in some 23,000 current and former players sharing $185 million in back pay. The latest baseball unionization is part of the chapter that is unfolding all across the country as young workers, fed up with miserable pay and working conditions are discovering the meaning of solidarity and are forming unions.
And, breaking with the practice of other employers like Starbucks and Amazon, the union vote will not be challenged by the owners or brought to the NLRB. The players can now begin to look forward to collective bargaining with owners over their pay and working conditions like millions of other unionized workers.