Baseball Has Spent Years Fighting Minor League Pay Raises, and Now It’s Facing a Union Drive

Minor league players will have the opportunity to sign union cards, opening the pathway for an election that could extend labor representation to more than 5,000 players.

A minor league baseball player winds up a pitch on a field in front of a beige building and a sign that reads "Yellow House: John Deere."
Unionization could be coming for the minors. Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), which represents the major league in labor negotiations, launched a campaign to unionize minor league players on Sunday (Aug. 28). The union is sending out voting cards, and if they receive support from 30 percent of players, an election will take place to unionize the league with the MLBPA.

The pay and conditions of minor league players has been a source of fierce debate in baseball, where major league salaries have skyrocketed while minor wage pay has stagnated. In July the MLB agreed to pay out $185 million to current and former minor league players over a federal lawsuit alleging they violated minimum wage laws. The non-profit Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which has been involved in organizing efforts, claims the “vast majority” of players in the league make less than $12,000 a year, below the federal poverty line. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has pushed back on this claim, citing wage increases, signing bonuses, and housing compensation provided by the MLB.

The campaign has the potential to expand the MLBPA’s membership by five-fold, as there are more than 5,000 players in the minor league that would be eligible for unionization. Currently the MLBPA represents 1,200 players in the major league.

“Minor Leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide,” said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.

Baseball Has Spent Years Fighting Minor League Pay Raises, and Now It’s Facing a Union Drive