Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Labor Day Weekend Discussion on the Minor League Umpires Union

I have to admit, I don't think it gets much better than taking in a doubleheader on a lazy Sunday afternoon. When it comes to doing so out in Woodbridge and the Potomac Nationals are playing, it also means that you get a really good seat for less than the cost of going to the movies. What made it even better yesterday, however, was the fact that I ran into a friend of mine Dan who I haven't seen in a couple months.

Just for the record, I met Dan through the work we've both done in the political world. It therefore shouldn't be too surprising when I tell you that he works for a labor union and was quick to point out a sign in the outfield that highlighted the minor league umpires union (the Association of Minor League Umpires). With yesterday being labor day, however, it also seemed fairly fitting that our conversation turned in the direction of a labor union.

Briefly setting aside the politics of labor unions, Dan pointed out that the AMLU joined forces with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) back in February of 2010. When they did so, they became known as AMLU/OPEIU guild 322. Why 322? Well, they picked that number to stand for 3 balls, 2 strikes, 2 outs. Of course, that’s the count where we can see a lot of excitement -- like Ryan Zimmerman’s walk off grand slam a few weeks ago against the Phillies.

Now some of you may wonder why a minor league umpire needs to have a union. In my opinion, it simply comes down to the fact that everyone deserves to have a well paying job. Now we’ve all probably heard about how little minor league players make when compared to the major league counterparts, but the umpires don’t get the relatively large signing bonuses that many players receive. They also make considerably less money and don’t have the added benefit of having a “host family” that helps them out like many minor league players do when they’re in the lower leagues.

With that being said, the average salary for Minor League umpires is about $15,000 in Class AAA, $12,000 in Class AA, $10,000 in full-season Class A and $5,550 in Rookie League. While they’re forced to spend basically the entire regular season on the road living out of their suitcase as they travel from hotel room to hotel room, they’re also given about $20 per day per diem (in other words, basically enough to get their meals at a fast food joint).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anywhere that you can cover all of your bills on a salary of $15,000 much less the salaries that they earn in the lower leagues. The amazing thing is that these salaries are actually higher than they were before the AMLU began working to protect the rights of umpires. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, however, if we legitimately want to see a day when good umpires are able to make a solid living wage while working in the minor leagues.

This is all also important to take into consideration because the umpires’ current collective bargaining agreement runs through the end of this season. Since the last time we saw negotiations (back in 2006) the talks resulted in a strike, it’ll be very interesting to see how things progress between the union and the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (the company that manages minor league umpires).

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