NEW YORK (AP) — More than 5,500 minor league baseball players formed a union on Wednesday, completing a lightning-fast organizing drive that launched only 17 days earlier with the goal of raising annual salaries as low as $10,400.

Martin Scheinmannthe sport’s independent arbitrator, advised Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association that a majority of the 5,567 players in the minor league bargaining unit had signed union authorization cards since the start of training on August 28. He did not provide a specific number alongside.

“This historic achievement required the right group of players at the right time to succeed,” union leader Tony Clark said in a statement. “Minor Leaguers have bravely seized this moment, and we look forward to improving their terms of employment through the good faith collective bargaining process.”

MLB had agreed on Saturday that it would voluntarily accept a union if there was majority support and would not require the players to petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold a representation election.

“Major League Baseball has a long history of bargaining in good faith with unions, including those representing minor and major league umpires and major league players,” the league said in a statement. “Based on the clearance cards collected, MLB voluntarily and promptly recognized the MLBPA as the representative of minor league players. We hope that a timely and fair collective bargaining agreement will be reached.

Minor leaguers form a separate bargaining unit within the MLBPA, which negotiated its first collective bargaining agreement for major leaguers in 1968 but had not until then been interested in representing players with minor league agreements. . About 1,200 major league players are covered by the major league agreement, and their average salary has fallen from $19,000 in 1967 to over $4 million this year.

Minor leaguers must choose player representatives who will lead them in negotiations during the offseason. Bruce Meyer, who led negotiations last winter for a major league deal, will lead minor league negotiations, and deputy commissioner Dan Halem will be the go-to man for management. Meyer was promoted to deputy executive director in July.

Harry Marino, who has served as head of minor league attorneys since April 2021, has been hired as assistant general counsel for the MLBPA.

“For decades, conventional wisdom said that it was impossible to unionize the minor leagues,” Marino said in a statement. “Over the past few years, a bold and committed group of people have come together to prove this wrong.”

MLB increased weekly minimum wage for minor leaguers in 2021 at $400 at rookie and short season levels, $500 at Class A, $600 at Double-A and $700 at Triple-A. For players with minor-option major league contracts, the minimum is $57,200 per season for a first big league contract and $114,100 for subsequent big league contracts.

Additionally, MLB began this year requiring teams to provide housing for most minor leaguers.

“In a multi-billion dollar industry, there is no excuse for paying these players below the poverty line,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in a statement. “By banding together to use their collective voice at the bargaining table, minor leaguers will be able to advocate for a collective bargaining agreement that will secure them a future with the good pay and benefits they deserve.”

Many fans receive large up-front signing bonuses: 67 of the top 68 draft picks this year accepted $1 million or more, and the top 97 picks who signed received more than $690,000 each.

The MLBPA also governs major league agents, requiring certification and establishing regulations that include prohibitions on payments, gifts and loans to clients. Agents who negotiate minor league contracts are unregulated.

MLB and the big league union have had a contentious relationship that has led to nine work stoppages, including a 99-day lockout last winter that delayed the start of this season.

Minor league union dues will likely be a fraction of major league dues: $85 a day this year during the 182-day season. The union does not represent Dominican Summer League players.

Next year’s minor league schedule opens March 31 at Triple-A and April 6 at the lower tiers, when minor leaguer leverage may be highest. A strike could lead to each team keeping its dozen optional players in training complexes playing makeshift games.

The major league union has been representing optional players since 1981.

MLB and minor league attorneys this year agreed to a $185 million settlement of an eight-year-old federal lawsuit alleging violations of minimum wage laws, a deal that could be finalized next year. . A first estimate is that perhaps 23,000 players could split around $120 million with an average payout of $5,000 to $5,500, and their lawyers will split $55.5 million.

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