By DON McINTOSH
For the first time since its founding, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is joining the AFL-CIO. That announcement—plus the news that MLBPA had launched a campaign to unionize minor league players—was delivered at a Sept. 7 joint appearance by MLBPA executive director Tony Clark and national AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.
The AFL-CIO is America’s premier union federation, representing the interests of 12 million union members, and MLBPA is now its 58th affiliated union.
Founded in 1966, MLBPA is the oldest trade union in American sports. It represents 1,573 players, as well as 237 coaches, managers, and athletic trainers who work for Major League baseball clubs.
But it’s about to quadruple its membership. Clark, a former Detroit Tigers first baseman who has led MLBPA since 2013, said MLBPA’s board voted two weeks earlier to approve a union organizing campaign among the roughly 5,400 professional athletes who play for 120 minor league baseball teams. And in just the first week after the campaign launched Aug. 28, thousands of players signed union authorization cards, more than half of the total. League officials announced Sept. 9 that they will voluntarily recognize the union.
Shuler lauded MLBPA’s campaign to organize the minor leagues, which she called the last and largest sports league without union representation.
“People often think that being a professional athlete means that you’re just set up for life,” Shuler said. “I think there’s a lot of misperceptions about that. Right now minor league players are dealing with poverty-level wages, oppressive reserve rules, a real lack of support when it comes to their health and safety, and a chronic lack of respect. And these players’ choice to collectively exercise their voice and form of unions can change that.”
MLBPA’s affiliation comes as the national AFL-CIO is paying increased attention to sports unions. At its quadrennial convention in Philadelphia in June, delegates approved a resolution creating a new Sports Council of the AFL-CIO, similar in function to existing councils like the Building Trades, Metal Trades, etc. So far, the AFL-CIO Sports Council includes the NFL Players Association, the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association, the United Soccer League Players Association, U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (soccer), and United Football Players Association-USW.