MLB Agrees in Principle to First Minor League Collective Bargaining Agreement
Long-exploited minor league baseball players will likely get a hefty raise among other benefits soon
Last year, minor league baseball players at the lowest levels made $4,800 while competing in a six-month season — though they were also expected to maintain their fitness and performance level across the entire length of the calendar. This year, if MLB officially enacts a new collective bargaining agreement, the one they’ve just agreed to in principle with the Minor League Baseball union, players in the complex league and rookie ball will earn $19,800, more than a 300% increase.
That’s the power of a workers union, which until September 2022 did not exist for minor league ballplayers.
Per The Athletic, Single A ballplayer salaries will rise from $11,000 to $26,200; High A team members, who also made $11,000 last year, will get $27,300. Double A players will earn $30,250, up from $13,800, while Triple A players will now be paid $35,800, up from $17,500. The salary increases are estimated to cost MLB roughly $90 million annually, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the league set a revenue record in 2022, pulling in $10.8 billion.
On the Frontlines of the Battle for Better Working Conditions in Minor League Baseball
For generations, MLB has operated as a monopoly, with players in its development league paying the price. Now, with adamant advocates and powerful politicos on their side, those most exploited by the system are hitting back.
Union officials told The Athletic its players will be privy to a host of additional benefits. Players who sign at age 19 or older are going to be under club reserve for six years, rather than seven, which will allow them to test the free agent market — and work for an organization that’s willing to pay them the most, you know, like the right most people have — sooner. Minor league player housing and travel will improve, and they’ll be paid better for participating in mandatory instructional league work.
“MLB [has] a public-relations incentive to get a deal done quickly,” wrote Evan Drellich in The Athletic. “As minor leaguers began speaking out about their pay and overall treatment in the last couple years, the pressure mounted for the league to do better.”
I spoke with a number of current and former minor league ballplayers for an InsideHook article last year. Trevor Hildenberger, a pitcher currently in the San Francisco Giants organization, told me he estimated that in rookie ball he earned $2 an hour — a rate other minor leaguers and advocates said was spot on for players at that level.
“To put that figure in perspective,” I wrote, “the Los Angeles Times ran an in-depth exposé of criminal conditions in Southern California sweatshops in 2017 under the designed-to-shock headline ‘Behind a $13 shirt, a $6-an-hour worker.’”
When the minor league players were working with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Big Leaguers’ union, to form a union of their own last summer, Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, said, “Minor leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide. They’re an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field.”
On a day in which the game’s wealthiest players will be celebrated upon their return to Major League diamonds, it seems the minor leaguers just took another huge step toward getting sensible respect, from leaders of a monopoly with a long history of worker exploitation, which they’ve earned through their remarkable dedication. Play ball, boys.
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