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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