2006 Minor League Baseball umpire strike
The most recent umpire strike in Minor League Baseball history was the strike of 2006. It involved primarily a monetary dispute between the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU), a trade union, and the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC), a management company. The dispute resulted in the hiring of replacement umpires for a number of games, followed by minor concessions by both parties, resulting in a slight wage increase for umpires employed in Minor League Baseball.
In 1999, the Minor League umpires, under the umbrella of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp (PBUC), unionized themselves and formed the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU). The following year the AMLU signed a salary contract with the PBUC. The union was formed to provide support and protection for the umpires in contract negotiations with PBUC, which is in turn governed by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL). As of the 2006 strike, the president of the union was Andy Roberts, a triple-A umpire.
On the side of management, Pat O’Conner, the acting chief operating officer and VP and George Yund, the PBUC attorney were two of the key players in the contract negotiations for the PBUC. The AMLU represents about 220 umpires in the 16 different leagues within Minor League Baseball.
The primary impetus for the strike came from AMLU's distaste for its umpires' salaries. Though they have always been rather low in accordance with PBUC's idea that umpiring is not a proper career, AMLU insisted that they had become too low. Umpires in Minor League make “15,000 at Triple-A, $12,000 at Double-A, and $10,000 in full season and $5,500 in rookie leagues over a 142-game schedule,” said Associated Press and Jeffery Lane of In These Times. This is just a fraction of the salary for Major League umpires, who make anywhere from $84,000 to $300,000 annually for their schedule of 162 games. This disparity could be because of the difference in salary between Minor and Major League Baseball players. The money flowing into the major league is much greater than that which is flowing into the Minor League. Many Minor League umpires require an extra job or even two during the off-season to make ends meet. This situation may not always be tenable, however, as the difficulty of the on-season schedule prevents the umps from maintaining their second job during the baseball season. This leads to a challenge in finding a steady job with an opportunity for advancement.
The strike began when irked umpires filed a lawsuit with the National Labor Relations Board Florida against PBUC in mid-March on the grounds that PBUC threatened to fire those umpires who decided to strike. There was some speculation that the AMLU union umpires intended to strike in early 2006, just after their contracts expired in late 2005. However, the rumors turned out to be insubstantial. When it was time to renew the expired contract, the AMLU umpires demanded salary increases which the PBUC was unwilling to pay. It was decided then that the umpires would go on strike. The umpires refused to report for Spring Training, marking the beginning of their official strike of 2006. The first game of Minor League Baseball on Thursday, April 4, 2006 began with a replacement umpire.
The umpires demanded a $100 per day salary increase and a $10 per diem increase. In the 2000 contract which AMLU initially signed with PBUC, the rookies were getting paid $1800 per month and the senior umpires were getting paid up to $3400 per month. This salary was not enough, considering that their schedule only lasts for 5 to 6 months, leaving their annual salary at a meager $15,000-$20,000.
Per diem rates ranged from about $20 for rookies, up to $25 for senior umpires. According to AMLU, the per diem rate in the 2000 contract was completely inadequate to meet the needs of umpires. Because the umpires spend the 5-month season on the road, living in hotels and eating in restaurants, their daily food and gas expenses could not be met with the 2006 per diem rate first proposed by PBUC.
During the strike
The dispute began in February 2006. As PBUC's contract with AMLU had expired in 2005, both groups were engaged in negotiating the terms of the next 5-year contract for the umpires. Contention emerged over a salary hike proposed by PBUC, the first in almost a decade. PBUC offered a $100-a-month raise as well as an across-the-board increase of $1 per day to the per diem payments. The deal also included a proposal to raise the deductible for the umpires' health insurance from $100 to $500, reducing the effective amount of the salary hike. AMLU rejected the deal outright, claiming that it was insufficient to meet their needs.
The first Minor Leagues to announce that their umpires had failed to report on April 4 for opening day were the International and Texas leagues. Umpires for the Southern League failed to report on April 5. April 6 was the national opening day for Minor League Baseball. Two hundred and twenty umpires represented by the AMLU went on strike, refusing to report across 16 different leagues.
Management (PBUC) then issued a statement that they had made their best and final offer. They then announced that they would continue the season, implying that they would employ the use of replacement umpires in the place of the professional AMLU workers.
On May 11 some major league umpires joined with the AMLU umpires in a show of solidarity. Tim Timmons, Randy Marsh, Angel Hernandez, Hunter Wendelstedt and Sam Holbrook arrived in the picket line outside of Cooper Stadium to strike alongside AMLU umpires.
For the duration of the strike, PBUC management called in replacements for the 220 AMLU umpires on strike. These replacements consisted largely of college and high school umpires. For fear of reprisals, PBUC refused to release the names of the replacements.
A number of incidents involving the replacement umpires followed. Some players, coaches, managers and AMLU representatives placed the blame on the replacements.
One of the most publicized mishaps involving the replacements occurred on April 26 during a game in Pawtucket. After striking out at the plate, a frustrated Delmon Young of Durham threw his bat at the umpire in response to what he thought was a bad call. The bat hit the umpire, bringing criticism from MiLB and earning a 50-game suspension.
After being ejected from a game on May 1, Ottawa manager Dave Trembley declared the replacement umpire’s performance as “the worst officiating [he had] ever seen in 20 years of professional baseball. [It was] an embarrassment to the International League and an embarrassment to [me]."
One International League player remarked, "It's definitely not professional baseball the way they're calling balls and strikes. I've been called out twice on balls that bounced in the dirt. Definitely hitters are taking a beating and so are the pitchers. I know guys on our team are throwing pitches sometimes down the middle and (they're) getting called balls. And sometimes they're 10 inches outside and they're called strikes.
Both AMLU lawyer Robert Weaver and a National League scout criticized the skills of the replacements. Weaver said of the replacement umpires' performances, “It's definitely inconsistent and it's affecting careers. Players' numbers are down. I think the league ERA is an earned run lower than it was last year."
Management within PBUC as well as MiLB, however, was supportive of the replacement umpires. Both PBUC and MiLB denied the charges made by players, managers, AMLU and coaches that the replacement umpires were unprofessional, lacking the experience and skills to manage the players and make the proper calls. Pat O'Connor, vice president of Minor League Baseball, praised the replacement umpires for their effort. He also mentioned that the replacement umpires had done quite well during the strike and would be needed again in the event that an AMLU umpire became injured or sick.
After a few grueling weeks of the Minor League umpire strike, which began on April 6, 2006, negotiations were finally settled between the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) and the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC). The umpires who had been on strike resumed work on June 12, 2006. An earlier contract had been proposed but rejected by the AMLU on a 2-1 vote, most likely due to disagreement over the salary terms. However, days later, along with the help of a federal mediator, the two sides were able to devise a new contract.
Through the use of collective bargaining and a labor strike, umpires were able to negotiate an increase to their per diem payments by $3, up to a maximum of $40 depending on the league. As for monthly salaries, there was an increase of $100, also a part of the six-year agreement.
- Associated Press. "Threatened Minor League umpires plan strike." MSNBC. 24 Mar 2006 <http://www.msnbc.com/id/11999748/>
- PBUC. Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. 2 Aug. 2007 <http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/info/umpires.jsp>
- Associated Press. “Minor league umpires reject contract offer.” ESPN. 20 Jan 2006. <http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/index>
- Associated Press. "Minor League Umps Allege Unfair Labor Practice." ESPN. 24 Mar. 2006. <http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/index>
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- Czerwinski, Kevin T. "MiLB, striking umps reach agreement." Minor League Baseball. 30 May 2006. <http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/news/>
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