Why are these teams excluded from the Little League Baseball Association?

Professional baseball will become a fairer sport next year — at least in terms of compensation.

After a successful push to unionize by minor league players, the workforce — which has historically paid poverty level wages, in stark contrast to the massive profits at major corporations — is set to break off its first-ever collective bargaining agreement with Major League Baseball.

Now, with the postseason winding down, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), which added thousands of active minor leaguers to its ranks over the summer, is preparing to negotiate minor league pain points for the long haul, including salaries and travel conditions.

But while this organizational push has been recognized by MLB, and described by advocates as a step toward righting historical wrongs, the sport of baseball is still far from unionizing in general.

As the MLBPA and the league make their deal, hundreds of professional players on dozens of non-MLB affiliated teams will no longer be represented at the negotiating table. These players likely won’t see improvements in their working conditions, which insiders say can often be worse than those of MLB-affiliated teams.

Here’s a look at what could be the next frontier in baseball’s employment calculus — in Pennsylvania and cities nationwide — and why baseball experts say it likely won’t be.

How did minors get a union?

It took just two weeks for thousands of active minor league players to sign authorization cards with the MLBPA, skyrocketing the union’s membership from just 1,200 members to nearly 6,500 professionals overnight.

But this incredible effort followed years of meticulous groundwork and acrimonious media interest in the dynamics of the haves and have-nots between major league owners of minor league teams and the minor league players themselves. The union’s efforts overcame staggering structural odds—including a century-old antitrust exemption that gives MLB a legal monopoly on sports, and federal legislation that frees the league from paying minimum wage or overtime at the minor league level.

For decades, such barriers, and the promise of merit built into the minor league system, kept wages low and conditions steady.

In recent years, a storm of factors has broken this inertia: a $185 million settlement Between MLB and the two minor leagues in a class action lawsuit over minimum wage and overtime violations, government scrutiny of MLB’s antitrust exemption in the form of US Senate investigationand growing political support for a small league union in state capitals and Washington, D.C., was a tailwind Public support escalated for trade unions.

“Little League players earn near-poverty wages while serving as MLB’s finest ambassadors to communities across America,” US Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). said in August. “Unionization will finally allow minor leaguers to negotiate for better pay and working conditions. I welcome this move by the MLBPA.”

Why did the small unionists need a union?

For decades, unionized minors players have complained about poor working conditions and low wages. National Public Radio (NPR) reported in September, citing advocacy groups for the young leaguers Most players earn less than $13,590 a season – Federal annual poverty line for one person – all paid for and recorded by MLB clubs worth millions and millions of dollars.

Chebbi’s training facilities, substandard equipment and nutrition, and chronic debt also plagued him.

“We weren’t getting enough nutrition,” said an unnamed player said the defector in 2021 for his team’s post-game dinners, strength training, team exercises, and prep. “We got one spoonful of noodles, one piece of chicken, and a little bit of any vegetable.”

The player said his teammates were able to strike a cut-price deal for chicken fingers and burgers with a local restaurant owner who was a “sympathetic fan of the team”. In the same Defector report, a Triple-A player with a National League club said, “Some guys get jobs in retail; some guys do lessons” to make ends meet.

In a major 2021 victory for minor league players, MLB has begun requiring major league teams to have control of their minor league clubs. Provide housing for these players.

Previously, players found themselves staying together in team-provided accommodations, sleeping in cars, and staying with host families. As noted by The New York Times in a 2019 article about players for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees) who live in Old Forge Funeral HomeUndesirable living situations are not uncommon for many young dropouts who live on very tight budgets.

Less than a year after adding housing requirements in 2021, MLB voluntarily acknowledged the union’s historic minors payment last summer.

Everything from salaries and benefits to grievance procedures will be on the table when collective bargaining between MLB and MLBPA begins.

What minor league teams are they affiliated with now?

MLBPA now covers players at all four affiliate levels – including Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A, per ESPN.

At Penn State, this includes the following teams: Altoona Curve (Double-A), Erie SeaWolves (Double-A), Harrisburg Senators (Double-A), Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Triple-A), Reading Fightin Phils (Double-A) , and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple-A).

Who is not covered and why?

Pennsylvania teams such as State College Spikes (MLB Draft League), Williamsport Crosscutters (MLB Draft League), Lancaster Barnstormers (Atlantic League), Washington Wild Things (Frontier League), York Revolution (Atlantic League), and Johnstown Mill Rats (Prospect League) have not Be a part of the MLBPA campaign.

The Atlantic and Frontier leagues are independents, which means they are not directly affiliated with MLB – although both are MLB Partners – and they were not included in union efforts.

What is the difference between affiliates and affiliates? Affiliate teams, such as those mentioned in the section above, are controlled and funded by major league clubs. Meanwhile, teams in partner leagues control their rosters and payroll. While “partner” may sound like a closer relationship than “partner,” in this case it is not.

MLB He reorganized the palace in 2021controversially cut dozens of teams to reduce costs. The league also identified four independent leagues – Atlantic, including Frontier – as partners.

Through partner leagues, MLB is experimenting with new rules, equipment initiatives, and more, while also agreeing to provide seed funding for operating expenses and scouting efforts.

The MLB Draft and Prospect leagues are collegiate summer leagues whose players are not paid and treated as amateurs. Housing is being provided to players in the Draft League, a group of six former minor league teams cut from the MLB system amid a 2021 restructuring. (The league’s draft, in particular, was an effort to preserve baseball in select cities while also generating interest. with the MLB draft, which attracts little attention compared to peers in professional football and basketball.)

Independent league players and coaches declined to speak formally with Spotlight PA and Defector about the interest of unions due to the sensitive nature of the subject.

Who owns these independent teams?

Your local unaffiliated team is likely to be owned by a local entrepreneur or an ownership group made up of investors from the area.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Bill Shipley, former CEO of York-based Shipley Energy, is among the owners of the York Revolution, while Washington Wild Things is owned by district attorneys Stowe and Francine Williams, former Steelers center Deermonty Dawson, and business executive at Pittsburgh Jeff Corey.

Will the independent league players unite too?

It’s possible, but there are significant hurdles to overcome in organizing a suburban league for professional baseball, baseball experts say.

Among them: lower job security, which makes it more dangerous for players who lead regulatory efforts; a more fleeting workforce; shorter posts; smaller checks to cover union dues; and those with lower incomes.

JJ Cooper, editor at baseball america who has covered professional baseball for decades, said union hurdles in the indie leagues are “much more important than they are to the minors.” On the one hand, the cash flow situation is very different, he pointed out. “There are a lot of examples of independent league teams basically shutting down because they ran out of money. So it’s a whole different economic structure.”

David-and-Goliath’s unionization background, he said, was more pronounced for affiliate teams owned and controlled by MLB clubs worth huge sums of money. At the same time, Cooper noted that player conditions are always worse in the independent leagues. “As a general rule, you’ll make less money, you’ll have less job security—you’ll probably work in the off-season to support your baseball habit, the way people put it.”

What’s next for organized and unorganized professional players?

Simon Rosenblum-Larson of More Than Baseball, a nonprofit organization that advocates for minor leagues, said he’s not aware of any labor organization in the independent leagues but he’s sure they keep an eye on their affiliate counterparts.

“These players are often former [affiliate] League players, the relationships are very close there, and so it is now [affiliate] League players are in order, and this is one of the logical next steps.

Rosenblum-Larson, a former minor league player, notes that the pay usually drops the farther out of the major league orbit. “People have called it baseball’s Wild West,” he said.

For example, the Atlantic League is an independent operator and MLB’s partner (not affiliate) to the highest degree of the independent leagues. It says it “pays the players to win baseball games, not the intern.” John Gibson, general manager and vice president of operations for the York Revolution, said the payout is a maximum of $3,000 per month across the league. Most players make much less than that.

College summer leagues like the Prospect League of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, do not pay players at all, Rosenbloom-Larson noted, and in some cases are very popular and profitable thanks to minimal overhead.

He pointed to the Northwoods Union in the Midwest, where even the broadcasters are located Unpaid.

When asked to unionize more baseball, Rosenblum-Larson was unequivocal.

“The baseball players are a perfect example of a group of people who have tremendous, unique talent. And people make money off of that talent, and the players themselves don’t see any of that money.” They deserve to be paid fair compensation, and they haven’t since the inception of minor league baseball. .”

If you or someone you know has insight into working conditions in independent league baseball – the Atlantic League, the Frontier League or anywhere else – we want to hear from you. Connect with reporter Colin Dibbin here.

90.5 WESA partners with Spotlight PA, a reader-funded collaborative newsroom that produces impeachment journalism for all of Pennsylvania. more in Spotlightpa.org.

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