Louisville Bats, with new labor agreement, begin home-opening series
The Louisville Bats play the Indianapolis Indians at Slugger Field from Tuesday to Sunday under a newly-ratified collective bargaining agreement for athletes across minor league baseball.
Bats players are among thousands of minor leaguers across levels who unionized in September with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which said last week that a collective bargaining agreement won near-unanimous support among players who voted.
The Bats are affiliated with MLB’s Cincinnati Reds and started its 2023 season on the road against the Nashville Sound, losing 2 of 3 games. The Triple-A team plays in the International League, at minor league baseball’s highest level.
MLB spokesman Glen Caplin said in an email that major league owners unanimously ratified the five-year agreement on Monday. Neither MLB nor the MLBPA provided a requested copy of the document.
“Meeting throughout the offseason, we made tremendous progress over a short period of time and are pleased to have reached a five-year agreement with the players,” MLB said in an emailed statement.
There were more than 5,000 minor league players last year, according to ESPN. Representatives for the Louisville Bats and Cincinnati Reds did not confirm how many players in Louisville could be affected by the agreement.
Union representatives said the agreement doubles players’ starting salaries, provides better health and retirement benefits and prevents minor league teams from being removed while the contract is in effect.
According to Ed Edmonds, a retired law professor at the University of Notre Dame who studies baseball labor issues, the push for a union was ignited after MLB eliminated dozens of minor league clubs in 2020 and cost players their jobs.
“Ultimately, Major League Baseball said, ‘We're not going to fight this unionization effort. We're actually going to accept it, and we're actually gonna sit down and bargain with you,’” Edmonds said.
He said minor league players have had to deal with issues such as crowded living spaces and poor nutrition, and said he thinks MLB is interested in improving athletes’ quality of life.
Andrew Zimbalist, a retired professor who studies sports economics at Smith College in Massachusetts, said the changes will help make playing minor league baseball more sustainable.
“Nobody in the minor leagues is going to become rich, but nobody in the minor leagues is going to be below the poverty line,” Zimbalist said. “This basically enables them to live OK.”
Zimbalist also said MLB can gain from collective bargaining agreements with minor leaguers. It can offer benefits to players in exchange for monopolistic powers like reducing the number of teams, which he said could otherwise be legally challenged.