MLB Players Association Joins AFL-CIO

The MLB Players Association recently joined the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), reports Evan Drellich of the Athletic. The AFL-CIO is a federation of various unions in different industries throughout the country.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark pointed to the contentious return to play negotiations in the aftermath of the COVID-19 shutdown and last winter’s lockout as reasons for joining a broader labor federation. “The truth is we reflected on where our organization was, and the things that we potentially could do moving forward as a part of the broader labor discussion, and that’s why we’re here today,” Clark said upon announcing the decision yesterday.

The decision comes at a time when the MLBPA is attempting to vastly expand its membership. The union recently began efforts to incorporate minor leaguers. Just this week, the MLBPA announced that a majority of minor leaguers signed authorization cards that’d demonstrate interest on their part in joining the Players Association. The MLBPA petitioned Major League Baseball to recognize its authority to represent minor leaguers on that basis. If MLB declines to do so, the MLBPA could file a motion with the National Labor Relations Board for an election among minor leaguers. If more than half of those who cast votes do so in favor of unionization, the NLRB would require MLB to recognize the PA’s authority to represent minor leaguers.

We have engaged the league formally and informally,” Clark said yesterday of the request for voluntary recognition. “We remain hopeful that that conversation and decision will bear fruit. In the event that it doesn’t, we have the opportunity to petition the NLRB and go that route. So I truly think that there is an opportunity for us as an industry to have a conversation here, and a level of engagement that is beneficial for all involved. And we’ll just have to see how that plays out, but we’re encouraged, at least initially, with some of the dialogue that we’ve had. But we’ll have to see.

It’s tough to know at this point whether the PA’s decision to join the AFL-CIO will have major repercussions on its handling of future discussions with the league. At the very least, it seems to allow Clark, lead negotiator Bruce Meyer and other MLBPA members freer communication with union leaders in other arenas. Labor attorney Eugene Freedman provides a breakdown (Twitter thread) of various benefits in areas like mortgages and car purchases that rank-and-file MLBPA members could now receive as part of AFL-CIO programs. Those aren’t likely to move the needle for major leaguers at the top of the salary scale, but they could be more meaningful for lower-salaried minor leaguers if they’re formally included in the MLBPA over the coming months.