The minor league collective bargaining likely heats up in January

The minor league collective bargaining likely heats up in January

The good level of the minor league collective bargaining should become clearer in January.

In the past two months, the Players’ Association has made a number of proposals to the commissioner’s office, including those covering the main economic issues: minimum wage, housing, food, transport, grievance procedure and benefits, they said the people informed about the process. The league is digesting those proposals and plans to make its first set of counter offers next month. Once they move around the table, it should become clearer how far or close the sides are.

Details of the union’s opening proposals were not immediately available. Under the old system, owners paid minor league salaries of $400 a week in rookie ball, $500 in Class A, $600 in Double A and $700 in Triple A. These amounts were paid during the season, unlike of the whole year The MLBPA is seeking pay raises, among many other changes.

The league and union have deliberately kept the process quiet until now, a contrast to the past two years that led to the minor league union at the end of this summer. Player advocates spoke loudly and frequently about the the working conditions of minor leaguers as they built support for a union. But once negotiations formally began in November, both sides felt the process would be better off out of the public eye.

Now, with spring training beginning in February and negotiations set to intensify, the new year has the potential to bring more public feedback, depending on how players receive league offers and vice versa. But public dialogue would seem to be largely a tool reserved for players, rather than owners. Efforts to lobby the league and rally support for the minor league cause were so effective over the past 24 months that members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee joined the chorus.

From a distance, one could assume that the process is slow, considering that two months later, only one party has made proposals. But insiders describe a negotiation that is proceeding largely at the expected pace. The task at hand for both sides is, if not difficult, new: They are building a new CBA, the first to govern the relationship between the minor leagues and teams in the history of the sport.

“Everything we’re talking about and looking to negotiate is the foundation,” said Tony Clark, the MLBPA’s executive director. The Athletic during the World Series, shortly after the first trading session. “It is the first CBA. Often when we talk about collective bargaining, it’s against the backdrop of 60 odd years of ABC that we have going on in the major leagues. This is a little different. A lot of the groundwork needs to be laid here, while making tangible improvements to the experience and lives of minor league players.

“So we’re looking to do everything and share everything, with the league, as part of our first formal session.”

From one angle, the parties could be considered to be moving quickly. Major league negotiations moved slower than that when they began in 2021, eight months before owners locked out players.

The people at the table are largely the same as during the big league talks, with MLB Assistant Commissioner Dan Halem leading the way for owners and MLBPA Assistant Director Bruce Meyer at the helm of the contingent of players. A central figure in the unionization process, Harry Marino, recently joined the MLBPA’s bargaining team. He was previously the executive director of the nonprofit Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which dissolved once the MLBPA brought the players on board.

It was not immediately known whether the MLBPA and the minor leagues have determined a formal governance structure for their bargaining unit. Minor leaguers have regularly attended all eight meetings so far, either via Zoom or in person.

“The commitment from the minor league players, not surprisingly, has been tangible,” Clark said in October.

Commissioner Working Committee Chair Rob Manfred, rocky owner Dick Monfort has also participated in meetings, people briefed on the process said. He is said to be the only owner who has appeared at the meetings so far.

Both Clark and Manfred have said publicly that the goal is to get a deal done in time for the start of the season.

“Not much has changed since I was in the minor leagues, which I guess is part of the plot, as far as why we are where we are, having the negotiation and discussions that we are. And so with that, we’ll see where it goes,” Clark said in October. “We remain hopeful, and the league has acknowledged the same, that an agreement can be reached before the start of the 2023 season.”

Manfred said in november: “The natural timeline would be to try to do it in the offseason. We always do better trading in the offseason. So I think that kind of natural expectation would be to try to do something before Opening Day.”

One issue to keep in mind during negotiations: MLB’s operational requirements after Senne’s class-action lawsuit is settled. MLB agreed to pay $185 million to minor league players who had sued alleging violations of the wage and overtime law. As part of the deal, the league also agreed to make changes in the future.

According to the settlement web site: “MLB will also send a memorandum to all MLB clubs, informing them of the contract change and informing each club that it must compensate minor league players in accordance with Arizona’s prevailing wage and hour laws and Florida during spring training, extended spring training, instructional leagues and the championship season in those states, including applicable minimum wage laws.”

The fallout from the lawsuit also incentivizes the league to reach a settlement in time for the season. Otherwise, MLB would likely have to alter its minor league operations twice: once to comply with various state laws in a post-Senne environment, and then again whenever a CBA is agreed upon.

(Photo of Bruce Meyer and Tony Clark, during 2022 major league negotiations: Greg Lovett/USA Today Network)

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