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Last week at Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about how the new minor-league bargaining unit within the Major League Baseball Players Association is going to be bargaining for more than just money. Some of that, as described in the article in question, is in relation to how MLB will no longer be able to just unilaterally change rules in the minors, but instead would have to bargain over rule changes just like they have with the MLBPA in the past. There are other areas where change is coming too, though, also related to the way the PA has bargained in the past.
I’ve said this before, but it’s just weird that… well, let’s just quote me from this past July, shall we? This is from a piece celebrating the fact that the PA and MLB couldn’t come to an agreement on instituting an international draft to replace the current international free agent signing period:
The PA is in a tough position here, in that they really shouldn’t have any ability to negotiate away the rights of non-members like this in the first place, but since those non-members aren’t in a position to fight the systems in place themselves, it falls to the Players Association to negotiate for them. The existence of a minor-league union would help fill in some gaps here, since every single international signee/draftee would become a member of that union, whereas that is not the case for MLBPA membership, but no such union exists at the moment.
I do love that “there are weeks where decades happen” quote from Lenin, and have already used it in reference to the formation of a minor-league bargaining unit, but whatever. There it is again. Less than two months ago, I wrote about how a minor-league union could change the way international draft bargaining is handled, and now there’s a minor-league union. So, we might see that theory tested a lot sooner than expected.
In theory, it makes sense that bargaining over amateurs would now fall to the minor-league bargaining unit within the MLBPA, rather than the major league portion. After all, with very rare exceptions, amateurs are drafted or signed (or both) and then head to the minors. Which means they’d be members of the minor-league bargaining unit, not the big league one, with membership to the latter only coming at the point where the player reaches the 40-man roster of their MLB team.
In theory, because it’s unclear to me how this is all going to end up shaking out. There are going to be multiple collective bargaining units here, which means multiple CBAs, and the existing one already covers some minor-league territory since there was no one else to work on representation for those players besides the existing version of the PA. That’s how the significant pay raises for 40-man roster players came into existence in the first place: an attempt to grow the size of the union’s membership while extending what protections they could reasonably argue for into the minors. I imagine that the PA will be able to sort out what belongs to which unit easily enough, given they’re all part of one larger union now and making sure they’re on the same page and not weakening the others’ position is how the game works from now on.
As for MLB, though, I’m curious about what they’ll fight to keep within the existing CBA and in the purview of the major league bargaining unit, and what they’ll believe rightfully belongs to the minor-league unit. I’d imagine the 40-man stuff stays within the existing CBA, for instance, since the arguments that allowed those carve outs to exist could still apply today, and 40-man players — as well as Minor League Article VI(A)(2) players, aka minor-league players with major league service time who are no longer under their original contract — are in subclasses all their own that makes them not fully the same kind of player as your standard MiLB one, anyway. Other than that… it might depend on which unit MLB thinks has a better chance of caving on the issue of something like the international draft.
Like with everything else, however, what MLB is going to need is some kind of evidence and strong argument that something like the international draft should remain bargainable with the MLB unit instead of the MiLB one, if that’s the case they’d like to argue, anyway. Otherwise, the National Labor Relations Board can get involved, and I’d imagine the minor-league bargaining unit could pretty easily make something like the international draft/free agent period bargainable for them given they would be doing so in the name of players who will become members of the union the moment they sign a deal.
Assuming they aren’t going to the Dominican Summer League, anyway, which might end up being something of a fulcrum point in these kinds of talks. The DSL isn’t in the United States, and its players not subject to that country’s labor law, which means they aren’t part of the minor-league bargaining unit. Like MLB representing some minor-league players over the years, though, something can be worked out so that representation extends into the DSL. It’s going to cost something for that to happen, and while I don’t think it would be on the level of “give us an international draft and all rights will be extended to DSL players,” I can certainly picture MLB trying that, considering they offered the PA the removal of something as ignorable as the defanged qualifying offer in exchange for the same thing just a few months back.
It’s all something to watch out for, though, because again, there is much more to bargain over here than just straight-up salaries. The minor-league unit will have to assert itself in various other ways, and fill in the gaps where the MLBPA has had to in the past, because no one else could.
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