On March 2, Bryce Harper announced that he had accepted a $330 million contract to play for the Philadelphia Phillies for the next 13 years.
Over the next 13 years, the 219 workers who previously made Harper’s official on-field cap will earn nothing from his new career with the Phillies.
For the past 60 years, Major League Baseball has had a contract with the New Era Cap Company. The contract requires on-field caps for players to be made in America, while the rest of the more than 60 million “replica” caps for fans are produced by third-party manufacturers in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Haiti.
Since 1993, a unionized factory in Derby, New York has been the sole manufacturer of the on-field caps, producing about 4.5 million caps annually.
In November, however, New Era announced the closure of the Derby factory, switching manufacturing to a plant in Miami with 120 nonunionized workers. New Era claimed the move was a strategic shift from manufacturing to marketing.
Yet with additional lucrative contracts with the NBA and NFL causing New Era’s profits to reach $750 million annually, the move seems to be a union-busting technique to maximize profits at the expense of worker benefits.
The Wagner Act of 1935 guaranteed laborers’ right to organize and bargain collectively, stating that when the majority of workers voted for union representation, all became members and paid membership dues.
Membership grew until the 1960s, when about two-thirds of Americans were union members. Unions worked to establish Medicare and Medicaid, succeeded in implementing standards such as the eight-hour workday and increased child labor and safety laws.
To limit union power, corporations pushed for the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which allowed states to impose “right-to-work” policies. This allowed workers in companies with union contracts to opt out and not pay dues, effectively ceasing most union revenue and undermining activity.
Now, 28 states including Florida have right-to-work laws, but in 2018, only about 10.5 percent of U.S. workers were union members. Manufacturing jobs have significantly declined. This has been coupled with rising CEO pay, causing inequality in the United States to be as high as it was before the Great Depression.
President Donald Trump and the Republican Party would like you to believe the job loss is due to globalization that could be solved by corporate tax breaks convincing companies to stay in the United States. CEOs, however, have used the savings from the 2018 tax reforms to increase their own pay, with little investment in workers.
The MLB is as much an industry as it is a national tradition, making the cap the symbol of the sport’s cultural importance.
On opening day in two weeks, all 750 unionized professional players will be wearing hats made by workers who don’t enjoy the same protective benefits of a union. Beyond the diamond and the outfield, wearing caps that are union-made signals the importance of the inherent dignity of every human person who enables the 162 games of the season.
Unions and baseball caps can be traced as a reason why I write for The Daily Californian’s sports department.
My father grew up in the Chicago suburbs, idolizing Cubs players such as Ernie Banks and Billy Williams while his father worked in construction and was a part of a union.
After my grandfather’s death, my grandmother lived off his union pension for 20 years, spending much of that time faithfully and relentlessly rooting for the Cubs.
She didn’t live long enough to see the Cubs reach their 2016 glory, but she lived a comfortable life from the benefits of a union — benefits that united her with her beloved, unionized Cubbies and with the unionized factory workers in Derby.
My grandfather’s union provided my father the opportunity to advance economically, allowing me to utilize those benefits to attend UC Berkeley and work for the Daily Cal. My Cubs baseball cap reminds me of my grandma and the origin of my love for sports.
Fans like me, players and the MLB alike have the responsibility to the Derby factory workers — and to my grandmother — to ensure that their legacy does not yield to corporate greed.
Alicia Sadowski writes for Bear Bytes. Contact her at [email protected].