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MLB is ready to recognize a union for the minor leagues, the commissioner says

A minor league baseball game between the Tampa Tarpons and Dunedin Blue Jays in April. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says MLB is ready to voluntarily recognize a union for the minor leagues.
Mike Ehrmann
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A minor league baseball game between the Tampa Tarpons and Dunedin Blue Jays in April. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says MLB is ready to voluntarily recognize a union for the minor leagues.

Updated September 10, 2022 at 10:22 AM ET

Major League Baseball is ready to voluntarily recognize a union for minor league players, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

He said at a news conference Friday that "we're prepared to execute an agreement on voluntary recognition. I think they're working on the language as we speak."

Manfred's comment came just three days after the Major League Baseball Players Association announced that more than half of minor league baseball players have voted to unionize.

"Minor league Players have made it unmistakably clear they want the MLBPA to represent them and are ready to begin collective bargaining in order to positively affect the upcoming season," said MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark in a statement Tuesday.

The MLBPA said it has sent a letter to MLB requesting voluntary recognition of the union's efforts to represent minor leaguers.

Compensation for minor league players has been a controversial issue for years.

In the major leagues, even the most middling franchises have estimated values in the billions, and the average player salary is more than $4 million.

By contrast, the majority of minor league players earn between $400 to $700 per week and are only paid during the regular season. Over the course of a season, most players earn less than $13,590, the federal poverty line for a single person, according to minor leaguers' advocacy groups.

"Obviously we are at the bottom of the totem pole, but we're still professional athletes," said Dominic Yearego, then a relief pitcher in the Oakland A's minor league system, told NPR in 2020. "We're playing professional baseball, and we're struggling more now than we did when we were in college."

When the pandemic began just before the start of the baseball season in 2020, five teams stopped playing their minor league players altogether. (Others committed to paying despite the lack of a season.) Later that year, the league eliminated its affiliations with 40 minor league teams.

MLB raised its minimum minor league pay in 2021 and later began requiring teams to offer housing to most minor league players. Earlier this summer, the league reached a $185 million settlement with thousands of current and former minor leaguers who had filed suit in 2014, alleging that MLB had violated minimum wage laws in three states.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.