Minor leaguers are demanding improvements to MLB’s new housing policy

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Back in October, when MLB announced that there would be a minor-league housing assistance mandate, it was pretty clear that it was going to be a positive, but there was no way it would account for everything it should. The final plan actually ended up being a little better than expected — likely due to the fact that it is very clear the league fears minor leaguers organizing — though, it still fell short of what it could be.

There is also the matter of how the policy came to be in the first place. As I wrote for Baseball Prospectus at the time the details were announced:

Now, obviously, the pressure put on by Advocates [for Minor Leaguers] helped the policy come into existence in the first place. But it is explicitly not their policy: it is MLB’s. This is the olive branch the league is offering, it’s the cookie they’re handing out in the hopes the players will not ask for another one. If there were an MiLB Players Association, MLB could not simply send out a new housing policy like this and declare it law: it would have to be collectively bargained. A situation where the A’s get to play exploitative landlord might not exist, because someone on the player side would point out that the team can’t be trusted to any of their own devices when it comes to having to spend money. The issues could be ironed out beforehand, rather than simply being something the players and their advocates have to react  to. The players would have their voice and a seat at the table: both are necessary, and the fact that MLB is so quick to give in on what they have to this point should tell you how badly they do not want that to happen.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers has spent the past months since the initial announcement of the plan and its more detailed reveal talking to players, and on Thursday, they released a pair of statements on the housing assistance mandate that will go live in 2022. The first of these is from the Advocates for Minor Leaguers Player Steering Committee, and while it’s not particularly short, I’m going to include the whole thing below, as it’s not just descriptive of what they are demanding, but it’s also an open challenge and mission statement regarding housing:

After decades of exploitation, Minor League baseball players began organizing last season under the leadership of the staff at Advocates for Minor Leaguers. Our organizing focused primarily on addressing inadequate in-season housing, an issue that has affected thousands of players and their families for decades. Our inaugural season of activism culminated on September 18th, with the first ever, on-field player demonstration in Brooklyn, New York. Just three days later, Major League Baseball agreed to implement a new Minor League housing policy. The new policy ensures that every Minor League player will be provided with free, furnished housing beginning this spring.

While the new policy represents a massive player victory, the specifics of the policy were determined unilaterally by MLB, which neither asked for nor received our input. Over the past two months, Advocates for Minor Leaguers has collected feedback regarding the new policy from players across every Major League organization and every level of the Minor Leagues. Additionally, we have held several steering committee meetings about the topic. Together, Minor League players have identified a handful of issues with the new policy.

Most notably, the policy presents MLB teams the opportunity to cut costs rather than providing proper housing in any of three ways:

● Putting two players in each bedroom. Every player deserves the privacy of his own room.

● Refusing to accommodate the needs of players with spouses and children. Players with spouses and children should be given accommodations to ensure they can live with their families during the season. They should not be asked to share bedrooms with their teammates.

● Using host families or hotel rooms as a substitute for adequate housing. Every MLB team can easily find thirty apartments in each of its Minor League cities every year.

In light of these three potential loopholes–and for as long as the policy fails to ensure that each and every player will receive adequate housing accommodations–all Minor League players should have the right to opt out of team-provided housing and instead receive a housing stipend or reimbursement. It is unacceptable that the current policy allows for neither stipends nor reimbursement.

As we move into the 2022 season, we call on Major League Baseball to update its stipend and reimbursement policy and to close these three loopholes. Only by doing so can MLB make good on its commitment to solve the Minor League housing crisis once and for all.

Absent an amendment to the policy, we intend to publicly identify MLB teams that fail to provide adequate housing accommodations to each of their Minor League players during the 2022 season.

I’ve written before that, as annoying as having to figure out their own housing is and how much the players have said they do not want to be responsible for that anymore, taking things out of the team’s hands and forcing them to just cut you a check to cover housing would be a net good that gets rid of the kinds of potential landlord-esque problems Sheryl Ring has written about in the past, as well. And you can see why that’s the case, considering how MLB is planning on implementing housing: it’s free, sure, but they’re still trying to make these guys feel like they’re living in a college dorm instead of as adults in a weird industry that requires coworkers also be roommates, hopefully without feeling less human in the process. And somehow, host families remain a thing, when MLB could very easily put each of these guys up in their own rooms without it being a financial hardship for them. No matter what Dick Monfort might try to say otherwise.

The second statement is from Advocates’ executive director, Harry Marino, and while I don’t need to include the full text of that here, I will point out that it’s almost entirely about the need for MLB to actually communicate with players by giving them a seat at the table, instead of just implementing policy without feedback:

The shortcomings of the new league-wide policy demonstrate once again why it is imperative that Minor League players be given a seat at the table. Private discussions between partners will always yield better results than policy changes implemented unilaterally in order to quell public pressure.

It’s always nice when a public statement looks like something I would have written here. MLB doesn’t want the players to organize, so it gave them what is, all things considered, a pretty solid housing arrangement. Obviously, there are issues with it, ones that you just read about in the steering committee statement, but considering where housing assistance was before — basically nonexistent, save for in San Francisco and Houston, and the latter’s setup might very well have been a temporary COVID protocol measure — it’s quite the first step. The thing is, MLB designed things that way so the first step would also be the only step. Seeing Advocates for Minor Leaguers take the time to carefully consider the loopholes and potential spaces for exploitation, the spots where MLB could certainly do better to improve the experience, is heartening — it would have been very easy for the players to feel satisfied with the first step for fear that asking for more would be seen as greedy or incite MLB’s wrath somehow.

Instead, we get an effort organized through Advocates for Minor Leaguers to further improve the housing policy, while reminding MLB that the policy was not designed through optimal means — that there was only one seat at this table that should be set for two, and that failing to recognize the problem with that on their own is going to mean it’s going to be solved another way. If MLB was nervous about minor-league organizing before, then these statements certainly aren’t going to soothe those feelings any.

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MLB is ready to cancel games over labor dispute, unless they’re not

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MLB and the MLBPA met on consecutive days this week, which sounds like it’ll be the norm for a bit as the two try to work through bargaining issues without putting entire weeks in between sessions again. Reports on the meetings ranged from the discovery that Dick Monfort put his foot in his mouth so hard on day one that he wasn’t medically cleared to attend day two, to the players being angry at not just Monfort’s crying poor, but MLB’s clear plan of pretending their awful offers were magnanimous instead of making bad situations worse, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeting that “it’s good they’re talking” as he “reported” on salary numbers I covered in this space nearly two weeks ago.

There’s quite a bit to cover from these two days of meetings, and I will certainly be doing so between now and whenever the next sessions end up being. First, though, let’s take a look at a specific report, courtesy of The Athletic’s Evan Drellich, the meaning of which MLB is already saying we’re all misinterpreting.

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Please stop blaming MLB’s players for the owners locking them out

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The Players Association and Major League Baseball are meeting on Monday for the second time post-lockout, with the former being the one to call this bargaining session in order to make a counter proposal to MLB’s from earlier in January. The first meeting of the new year and the lockout gave us an idea of where MLB is at this point — they are pretty clearly waiting around for the players to get antsy and cave as spring training and the regular season approach, hence their lack of movement and seemingly purposeful wasting of everyone else’s time with their last set of proposals — so now we get a chance to see if the players are even a little bit in the mood the league is hoping for, or if they’re also willing to stand by their previous proposals. Or at least the spirit of them, which was about furthering player choice while tweaking the models that already exist to remove loopholes, cut down on exploitation, etc.

We’ve got a real “both sides” thing going on here, as was discussed here on Friday in relation to Jomboy and Jomboy Media’s whole deal on Twitter, but the independent outlet and namesake is far from the only one working on this sort of thing. Bernie Pleskoff, who writes for Forbes and used to be a scout for the Mariners and the Astros, took some time this weekend to very publicly misunderstand everything going on in bargaining in order to throw down his own “both sides” complaint.

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It is unreasonable to say the MLBPA’s proposals are unreasonable

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I have seen this odd reaction of late — in my Twitter mentions, in the comments to some of my work, in other peoples’ tweets I do not feel like engaging with — that the Players Association’s economic proposals are unreasonable. This, of course, lends credence to the idea that the players are in some part responsible for the owners locking them out, which they are not. It’s worth breaking down this idea of unreasonableness, though, if for no other reason than it will give me something to link to whenever this idea pops up.

Jomboy Media tweeted out a video the other day both sidesing the current lockout, and said tweet included the text, “It’s possible we lose a full month of the MLB season because of the lockout, and it’s incredibly dumb that the league and players allowed this to happen while the sport’s popularity was growing at such a good pace”. Now, Jomboy Media is relatively new, but they are growing, and have an audience: the main account I linked to there has over 125,000 Twitter followers, which isn’t nothing, and the personal account of Jomboy himself has over 400,000 followers — more than SB Nation’s general Twitter account, if you need some context. He used that space to spread misinformation about how player representation even works in bargaining and within the union, and considering his outreach… that’s a problem!

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Mailbag: The length of a CBA

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As we’re in the midst of a lockout, there are surely questions that need to be answered about the state of labor negotiations and the processes involved. I’m happy to answer what I can, so please, if you have something in mind, ask away: you can send me an email at marcnormandin at gmail, respond to this newsletter email if that’s the format you’re reading it in, or ping me on Twitter.

Today’s question is on the length of collective bargaining agreements, courtesy @DJSloppyJoeM on Twitter. Let’s get to it:

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MLB, MLBPA met for first time since before the lockout

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On Monday, I wrote about how MLB was still working on an economic proposal for the union, well after a month of lockout is already behind us. They finished up and presented this proposal on Thursday, and from the sounds of it, it is, like basically everything else MLB has proposed during the economic portion of bargaining, generally a waste of everyone’s time.

That’s not to say nothing was accomplished or agreed to — for instance, Susan Slusser reported that MLB proposed a universal DH on Thursday, and that, so long as it’s not “tied to something else as a bargaining chip,” it should be accepted — but otherwise, MLB didn’t address many of the union’s concerns, and presented non-starter solutions for others.

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MLB’s ‘proposal’ proposal was even worse than we knew

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That MLB’s final pre-lockout bargaining session was something of a joke where they didn’t even attempt to talk with the Players Association was already known: the New York Times reported on it in the moment, and the union rep for the Cubs, Ian Happ, referenced as much in a radio interview last month as well. Now, though, we know the depths of the humor in said joke, thanks to the reporting of ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

You need a subscription to read the whole thing, so I’m just going to quote this relevant passage from the larger story on the state of the lockout:

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This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball

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“This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.” For years, this statement, or at least some form of it, followed stories published at MLB’s website. It is technically correct legalese, which as you know is the best kind of correct in that arena: sure, the stories published at MLB.com were not making their way to the desk of the commissioner’s office before their publication, but you can bet that the approval of that office mattered for whether the author would get to publish anymore stories in the future.

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Happy new year, MLB’s lockout is ongoing

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Just because it’s now 2022 on the calendar doesn’t mean that we’re going to see progress in collective bargaining anytime soon. Nothing has changed from mid-December, when I published a newsletter titled “Don’t expect a quick resolution to the MLB lockout.” It’s now January, so, as was reported at the time by Evan Drellich, the two sides are expected to discuss core economics eventually, but “discuss” and “agree on” are not the same thing. MLB and the Players Association might be closer on a few items than MLB’s staunch refusal to take bargaining seriously pre-lockout might have indicated, but there is seemingly enough distance on other issues that it’s going to take more than a discussion or two before things can be ironed out in a meaningful way.

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