On September 9, 2022, years of organizing and hard work culminated in a resounding victory that shook the sports world when Major League Baseball (MLB) recognized the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) as the formal union representative of minor league baseball players. For over a century the minor leagues have been in operation in the United States, and this move represents the first time that this labor force has been unionized.
The challenges and labor issues minor league players faced have long been on Jobs With Justice’s radar and we are proud to say that we played a role in laying the groundwork necessary to achieve this victory. In 2018, Jobs With Justice initiated a set of experiments designed to gauge interest in organizing minor leaguers toward a union.
As spring training began in early 2019, we sent a pair of organizers to various spring training sites throughout Central Florida to discuss organizing, unions, and workers’ rights. With the help of Central Florida Jobs With Justice, our organizers engaged in a series of productive conversations with players.
From there, Advocates for Minor Leaguers formed with the intent of helping players learn about their rights and educating the public on the challenges minor league players faced. The organization was founded by former players and longtime labor leader Bill Fletcher. Advocates for Minor Leaguers provided a voice for minor leaguer players and helped highlight longstanding challenges like low pay, housing, and food insecurity. The long-term goal was clear: support players’ desire to unionize. Jobs With Justice advised Advocates for Minor Leaguers on organizing strategies and campaign escalation tactics.
Players won a significant victory when MLB teams began covering the cost of housing for minor league players, something the league and team owners refused to do for years.
It would not be the final victory for minor leaguers. In September, the MLBPA announced minor leaguers were joining the union in a minor league-specific unit of the union. Advocates for Minor Leaguers would fold its operations into the MLBPA. “We are pleased Major League Baseball is moving forward with this process in a productive manner,” said Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA. “While there are significant steps remaining, we are confident discussions will reach a positive outcome.”
Shortly thereafter, players claimed another victory as MLB voluntarily recognized the union. Even as the victories mount, big hurdles remain, as the newly unionized minor league players begin the process of bargaining their first contract with MLB.