Two Executive Directors, Tony Clark (MLBPA) and Becca Roux (USWNTPA) discuss #UnionUnity.
In 2022 – Becca Roux, Executive Director of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA), sat down with Tony Clark, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), to discuss #UnionUnity and share insightful stories about their experiences throughout collective bargaining and reflect upon the progress made.
Clark has been the Executive Director of the MLBPA for close to the last decade. Beginning in 2013, he has been part of six collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) as an active Player, inactive Player, and now as the Executive Director and was able to appreciate Roux’s bargaining experience with her two of the most recent USWNTPA CBAs, 2017 and 2022.
Roux and Clark first met at a World Players Association meeting in December of 2017, not long after Roux became Executive Director. The concept behind the World Players Association was getting Players Associations together and sharing experiences, understanding and appreciating different nuances within collective bargaining agreements or even lines of business, all with an eye on elevating all of the Players Associations, whether domestic or international.
When reflecting back on that time, Roux recalled that she talked to a lot of Clark’s staff over at MLBPA because they were really the foundation of group licensing. One of the things the USWNTPA were aiming to do in February 2017 related to group licensing rights, was the commercial use of a group of players’ name, image, and likeness (NIL).
The first Executive Director of the MLBPA, Marvin Miller, did one of the first deals with name, image, and likeness and according to Clark’s knowledge, it was one of the first to exist “at least in North American unions.”
Clark reflected on really understanding and appreciating that membership dues were one thing, but an opportunity to create financial leverage was important. “So being able to take the group licensing rights and create a business out of it was fundamental to a lot of the things that he was looking to do from day one.”
If you did not know, baseball cards led the way. Deriving from a deal with Coke, where Players were on the insides of bottle caps! “So when you pop the bottle cap, the Players themselves were on the inside,” Clark exclaimed.
While reflecting on the daring progress in group licensing over the years, Roux began to express her appreciation for the camaraderie amongst the various Players Associations. “Both as individual people, but also as institutions, we lean on each other and help each other. And since we are a very young and much smaller union, we are only 20-ish years old, we have been so incredibly grateful for the MLBPA’s help as we have built ourselves, but especially in the context of collective bargaining, which both of us just completed *insert fist bump*
From 2017 to 2022: the WNBPA, NFLPA, MLBPA, USWNTPA, and NHLPA have all negotiated a new CBA.
“Because we were about to have a second round of games taken down, they gave us a take it or leave it proposal. This was the first negotiation I’ve ever been a part of where we had Players participate in every bargaining session, oftentimes because it was in person in the past and wasn’t done over video conference. We’d often take the meetings to wherever the Players were playing and had members from those two teams involved, but the other 28 teams wouldn’t have otherwise been in the room at that time,” Clark added.
In March of 2022, the MLBPA ratified their new CBA that targeted several key items: creating a better environment for younger Players and generations to come, salary increases to minimum salaries, improved rewards for clubs that compete yearly, and the restoration of meaningful free agency to help demonstrate the value of experienced veteran Players.
Shortly after, the USWNT Players negotiated their historical CBA this year. It was ratified on May 17th and signed on the dotted line September 6th, 2022 at the USWNT vs. Nigeria game at Audi Arena in Washington D.C.. This monumental agreement highlights equal pay for equal work and improvements on maternity leave, overall compensation and benefits.
Roux expressed, “to have the two Players Associations, the men and the women, both negotiating with each other in order to achieve something that I don’t know that a lot of Players thought that we were gonna see in their lifetime – equal pay for equal work.”
Collective bargaining amongst unions is intensive and crucial in pushing progress for the Players. Oftentimes many unions seek insight and guidance from other Players Associations during negotiations due to the isolated feel of the work.
“Even with the relationships that we now have, we’ve supported each other throughout each other’s process and that’s a benefit too. So oftentimes, as I’m sure you’ve experienced on more than one occasion, you feel like you’re on an island and you’re sequestered behind closed doors for 25 hours of a 24 hour day and eight days of a seven day week, and you grind through it. You get so entrenched sometimes that you often forget that the rest of the world is still spinning and that’s why other PA’s having been through it or in the process of going through it, lending support, or just a helpful and venting ear, often time to time can be beneficial,” said Clark.
Conversation dove into times reflected by Clark during his career as a Player, both active and inactive, when Roux asked if he had any insight into the strenuous grind that came with collective bargaining during his 15-year playing career.
“I was at the table as an active Player, so I had some idea of its importance and the value in the Player voice being part of the equation. But I didn’t know what was often happening before you got to the table. And so when I was done playing and had an opportunity to come aboard the PA and was able to be part of a negotiation with my predecessor, Michael Weiner, it gave me a much clearer appreciation for how all the moving pieces came together,” Clark said. “The voices of Players are more important in the conversation at the table and in the room more than anything you could ever say. Because as the Player representatives, the other side hears you, but they really want to know whether or not the Players are willing to fight for what it is that you (as a PA exec) are suggesting they’re willing to fight for. Hearing Players articulate that, and be able to articulate it well, really is a difference maker in the grand scheme,”
Most people do not realize the dedication required by the active Players involved in this process. They are playing during the day, negotiating in the afternoons, mornings and even at night, or even when games continue to mix in where Players then have to focus on on-field play.
“I have so much appreciation for the active Players that are at the table. It is a whole full-time job on top of your already full-time job as a professional athlete. We would squeeze in hours between training and work on proposals while they were gone to keep things moving, but also really maximize the time when a player could be physically in the room. We had eight Members on our CBA committee out of 27 Voting Members in this last run, I’m so thankful for those Players,” Becca explained.
Clark closed out the conversation by saying, “the irony is we’re talking about soccer. We’re talking about baseball. But what you [the USWNTPA] did is bigger. I know that we’ve been talking about Players Associations, but what you guys just went through and what you were able to accomplish goes well beyond the soccer field and it can be used as encouragement, as something that others can strive for and gain confidence that they’re pushing in the right direction well beyond the sport. So again, it was exciting to see the headline the next day. But a bit extra special for me, having two daughters that were both athletic and played sports in college. There was a personal excitement around it, there’s a professional excitement around it and a realization that we’re moving in a direction that’s really beneficial.”
If you would like to learn more about both the USWNTPA and MLBPA Collective Bargaining Agreements, see below:
U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association
LinkedIn: @U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association
Major League Baseball Players Association
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