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Fellow Student-Author Krystyna Baumgartner and I had the privilege of attending the Major League Baseball Players Association’s (“MLBPA”) memorial for Marvin Miller on Monday, January 21st at NYU’s School of Law. The memorial was a glorious tribute to the life and legacy of one of the most important and successful leaders in labor history.
The memorial featured thirteen speakers with clips of Marvin Miller inserted in between. The first speaker was Richard Moss, prominent General Counsel of the MLBPA after Miller was elected Executive Director in 1966. Moss stated that Miller was especially gifted in explaining difficult concepts in a way that everyone could understand, without talking down to the listener, a skill that was echoed by speakers throughout the night.
Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association, Donald Fehr, also spoke. Fehr reflected on the emotional side of Marvin Miller that he deliberately concealed from the public. Miller was a brilliant tactician, even outside the negotiating room. For example, Fehr noted that Miller would intentionally speak quietly in order to make the players strain to pay attention. Fehr also notably addressed why Marvin Miller is still remembered today, more than 30 years after he retired. He argued that Miller built the MLBPA into a symbol of what a union could be, if run properly. Since former President Regan’s firing of 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, there has been a general acceptance of attack on labor unions from management, which continues today. Despite the hostile environment, the MLBPA successfully struck in 1981 and 1994. Finally, Fehr stated that Miller’s work to get individual members to take ownership of their union is the reason for the MLBPA’s success and claimed that unions in other industries would be much better off today if they were run with similar principles.
Of particular interest was the bevy of both current and former players in attendance. Speakers included Hall of Fame members Dave Winfield and Joe Morgan. Many players echoed sentiments that Miller’s most difficult job was to organize a group of individuals who feared for their job security if they joined a union and who wanted to focus on playing baseball rather than deal with labor relations issues. It took several years for the players to realize what could be gained from union solidarity. Buck Martinez and Jim Bouton described Miller as an educator. Current Director of Player Relations, Tony Clark, noted the lasting appreciation that the players have for Marvin Miller and the principles he stood for, inviting several current players in attendance to stand. Just about every single player expressed his offense to Miller’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame.
Finally, the clips of Marvin Miller were especially poignant. During his vignettes Miller expressed pride in his involvement with numerous unions and noted the value of speaking to each and every member. He also noted the conditions players faced prior to taking ownership of their union, and cautioned the players to not take their current position for granted. Miller stressed that educated, involved union members are necessary for the continuing success of the MLBPA.