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Minor Leagues

Former Phillie urges minor leaguers to unionize, strike

Dylan Cozens urged minor leaguers to organize. (Cheryl Pursell)

As uncertainties surround the labor landscape of Major League Baseball, a former Philadelphia Phillies player and minor-league standout urged current minor leaguers to take radical collective action on Thursday evening.

“My advice to all minor leaguers: strike/ unionize,” Dylan Cozens, a Phillies outfielder from 2018-2019, said in a thread on Twitter. “Stop letting billionaire owners exploit your emotions/dreams and think logically. Most of you will never make it. Even if you do make it, playing in the big leagues doesn’t hold much value on a resume.”

Cozens, 27, has plenty of minor-league experience under his belt. A second-round draft pick in 2012, he appeared in 27 games at the major-league level, but found most of his success in the minors. He slugged 40 home runs for Double-A Reading in 2016 on his way to becoming the Fightin Phils single-season home run king and Eastern League MVP.

After nine seasons of minor-league competition in the Phillies, Rays and Brewers systems, Cozens retired in 2021 to pursue a career in professional football.

The encouragement from Cozens comes as minor-league players have begun to report to spring training. While a work stoppage has put major-league camp on hold after MLB locked out the MLB Players Association when their collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1, the minor-league season is still scheduled to go on as planned.

This is due to the lack of representation for minor leaguers in new CBA negotiations. The MLBPA only bargains for major-league players, leaving minor leaguers without a say at the table.

“Oh also, the big leaguers for the most part don’t really care about you either,” Cozens said. “Some do thankfully but at the end of the day [they’re] looking to get theirs even if it means not improving things for the minor leagues.”

The lack of a union or other representation has left minor leaguers with conditions that have lagged behind those fought for by the Players Association. Only after cutting 42 minor-league teams did MLB increase the minimum monthly pay for minor leaguers to $500 for Single-A players, $600 for Double-A players and $700 for Triple-A players. Minor leaguers are only paid during the months of the season.

While MLB has guaranteed free housing for 90% of minor leaguers this season, the league has still pushed to cut costs at the minor-league level at the expense of its players. A lawyer representing MLB argued that minor leaguers should not be paid during spring training in federal court last Friday, according to a report by The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich. The league also requested the ability to reduce the number of minor-league players a team can roster from 180 to 150 in future years, according to a report from ESPN‘s Jeff Passan on Monday. The MLBPA shut that down, as the union negotiates on points that affect players not on a 40-man roster such as the draft despite not representing minor-league players.

With these issues ongoing, Cozens argued for minor-league players to take action. While speaking out against poor conditions and backing from organizations such as Advocates for Minor Leaguers has helped bring attention and progress, major change may not come unless these players organize themselves and are willing to withhold their labor.

“The value you provide is more than you are being compensated for,” Cozens said. “The [$1200] a month you might miss out on is a drop in the bucket compared to what these billionaire owners will lose every single day their operation is shut down. TV contracts, stadium financing, [etc.].”

Cozens believes a minor-league players’ strike would bring MLB to meet their demands for increased pay and conditions. In the age of social media, their messaging could quickly become widespread. If high draft picks and top prospects lead the way, the players could get to a point where there are no minor-league games happening. In Cozens’ view, that would force the owners’ hand.

“They will eventually cave in and pay up,” he said. “Now is the time.”


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