published on February 7, 2022 - 1:54 PM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

Baseball players who make it to the big leagues can expect to be well paid. Recent data shows that the average salary for a Major League Baseball player in 2021 was $4.17 million. While that is only half of the average salary in the National Basketball Association, it is ten times the average salary in Major League Soccer.

However, not everyone makes it to the major leagues. An MLB career almost always starts in Minor League Baseball and can involve years of playing for salaries that baseball insiders describe as “poverty-level pay.”

Advocates For Minor Leaguers, a non-profit organization founded by former baseball players to improve working conditions in the minor leagues, reports that the median annual salary for a MiLB player is $12,000, which is below the US Federal Poverty Level for an individual.

Advocates For Minor Leaguers is pushing for a raft of changes throughout Minor League Baseball. Chief among them is the establishment of minor league unions that would give players a voice in the decisions that affect their financial situation and their career opportunities.

Why does Minor League Baseball need a union?

The power of unions lies in collective bargaining. Regardless of the industry, the voice of one employee rarely will be enough to bring about change. However, union representatives usually speak on behalf of the majority, wielding an influence that those in management must respect.

As an example, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is made up of 1,200 members that include players, managers, coaches, and trainers. The number of MLB players total just over 1,000. Membership in the MLBPA is not open to minor league players.

If players’ stories are to be believed, the problems that exist in the MiLB go beyond the meager salaries players receive. Players also complain about poor living conditions, challenging travel schedules, and unfair contracts. As a result, many players suffer from anxiety and depression. A MiLB union would provide minor leaguers with a voice that could bring positive change.

What changes are underway in Minor League Baseball? 

One of the key problems reported by minor league players relates to housing. Because salaries often are insufficient to cover the cost of rent, players report sharing apartments with multiple players, some of whom have families with children, living in cars, or sleeping in team clubhouses. Even when they can afford rent, players often are reluctant to commit to rental agreements because of the high probability that they could be moved to a club in another city at any time.

In late 2021, the MLB announced the approval of a new policy that will require teams to provide housing for the majority of minor league players. The policy, which will take effect when the 2022 season begins, stipulates that the housing provided be furnished and that the league pay for utilities. Reports cited that the new policy came in response to complaints issued by players and advocacy groups.

Advocates For Minor Leaguers credited the victory to “collective action” by minor league players, but also pointed out that the plan for providing housing was made without player involvement, a situation that unionization for Minor League Baseball players could fix.

What changes are most important in Minor League Baseball?

With housing for MiLB players turning in a positive direction, the next issue that advocates are looking to address is the Uniform Player Contract. Every Minor League Baseball player is required to sign the contract, which keeps players from being able to pursue better pay or benefits on other teams for seven seasons.

The Uniform Player Contract also commits minor leaguers to train and “to perform professional services” year round, regardless of the fact that they are only paid during the season. Many players report that training and other team duties, like representing teams at public events, compete with the jobs they must work during the months when they do not receive a paycheck from MiLB. 

While unionization for Minor League Baseball players would clearly provide a mechanism for improving working conditions for players, past efforts have stalled out. Some experts cite fear and immaturity among minor leaguers as a barrier that would be very difficult to overcome. However, the recent victories and expanding influence of groups like Advocates For Minor Leaguers signal that more positive changes may be forthcoming. 

Scott Heric is the Co-Founder of Unionly, a digital payment platform built on the mission of giving organized labor control of their financial destiny. Recognizing that the majority of unions accept only cash or checks, with little or no visibility into or control of digital revenue generation, Scott launched Unionly in April 2020 to bring much needed modernization to the processes employed by unions to drive financial projects.

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