Wage inequity is a common issue in professional sports, particularly when comparing pay at the elite level versus development and lower-level leagues. In minor league baseball, for example, rookie ball players earn $4,800 per season, and AAA players max at $45,800 per season, while the minimum wage for MLB players is $700,000 per season. Owners argued that minor leaguers were exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act because they were seasonal apprentices similar to aspiring actors or musicians.
With this in mind, Major League Baseball’s players union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement for what amounts to 99% of minor league players. The 5-year deal still needs signatures from all 30 MLB owners, but the commissioner’s office took part in the negotiation as a representative for the owners. MLB players union Executive Director Tony Clark represented the players.
Some much-needed improvements for players
The new deal includes such key elements as:
- Pay is doubled at all levels.
- Players are paid for off-season training.
- There are upgrades in housing, transportation and meals.
- Players can be free agents after six years if they sign their first contract at 19.
The owners also promised not to contract the leagues for the length of the agreement – they eliminated 40 teams after the 2019 season.
Everyone agreed that changes were necessary
Some baseball fans found it quaint that ball players in lower minor leagues often saved money or had no choice but to live with families in the small towns where the team played, but these changes were long overdue.
Even team owners realized this, making the labor negotiations refreshingly quick and fruitful. Most ownership now understands that fostering top-level performance from players is less about tough love and more about teaching young players playing skills as well as nutrition and making travel easier on their highly tuned bodies.
This new arrangement also standardizes the treatment of players across different organizations, some of which were more willing or able to improve conditions. The union also makes it easier to negotiate with players in one fell swoop instead of various organizations.
All in all, this is a win-win for both sides.