When the New York Yankees baseball team crossed a hotel workers’ picket line in Boston last week, Marvin Miller must have turned in his grave. Miller, the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), from 1966 to 1983, freed players from indentured servitude. Because of the players’ union, the Yankees and their counterparts on 29 other teams are among the highest-paid athletes in the world.
But soon after they arrived in Boston to play the Red Sox in the American League division series, the Yankee players crossed union picket lines at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where employees were in the second day of their strike.
Videos revealed several players, including outfielder Brett Gardner (whose current salary is $12.5 million) and pitcher Dellin Betances ($3 million), carrying their suitcases into the hotel while striking workers chanted, “Don’t check in, check out.”
From a union perspective, the Yankees not only checked in, they also struck out. Someone should teach these muscular millionaires how to sing “Solidarity Forever.”
Brian Lang, president of Local 26 of UNITE HERE, the hotel workers’ union—whose 1,500 members went on strike at seven Marriott-owned hotels in Boston, including the Ritz-Carlton—recognized that while it was Yankee management, not the players, that booked the hotel, it was “a flimsy excuse for crossing a picket line.”
“As a lifelong Yankee fan and a proud New Yorker, I am disgusted the management of a team representing the strongest union town in America would choose a hotel where workers are on strike,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO.
Ironically, the MLBPA is now the most successful union in the country. In 1967, the year after Miller took the helm of the union, the minimum salary was $6,000 ($45,984 in today’s dollars) and the average salary was $19,000 ($145,616). This year the minimum salary is $545,000 and the average salary is $4.5 million.
Most players make far above the minimum. Yankee pitchers CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Aroldis Chapman earned $25 million, $22 million and $17.2 million, respectively, this year. Pitcher Dave Robertson (the Yankees’ union player representative) made $12 million.
Marvin Miller was a hard-core union man—he came to the MLBPA after a long career with the United Steelworkers of America—who brought baseball players respect and money through his tough negotiations with team owners and emphasis on player solidarity. He constantly reminded players that the owners were united to keep their pay and perks as low as possible, so the players needed to be united, too. He also educated the players that they were part of the broader labor movement and to respect the struggles of other union members and people who weren’t as fortunate as themselves.