Move to exempt minor-league ball players from minimum wage law

The Office and Professional Employees International Union represents baseball’s minor league umpires. The Major League Baseball Players Association represents its big leaguers. Maybe it’s time for the minor league players to unionize, too.

That’s because, in response to – what else? – a lawsuit, two representatives, one Republican and one Democrat, have introduced legislation to exempt the minor leagues from the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal minimum wage and overtime pay law.

And right now, the lawsuit points out, pay for the vast majority of those minor leaguers breaks that law.

Unless they’re on two-way contracts, with major-league and minor-league pay levels, the nation’s minor league ballplayers earn little, often $3,000-$7,000 yearly for five-month seasons with 50-70-hour workweeks, the suit says. Minor leaguers’ pay has risen by 75 percent in the last 40 years, trailing inflation, which has risen 400 percent, it adds.

That gap led San Francisco attorneys Bruce Simon, Thomas Boardman and Daniel Warshaw to sue major league and minor league baseball earlier this year in federal court on behalf of former Florida Marlins farmhand Aaron Senne, former Kansas City Royals farmhand Michael Liberto and former San Francisco Giants farmhand Oliver Odle – and all the rest. They want it to be a class action suit.

Countering that, Reps. Brett Guthrie, R-Kent., and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., dropped a bill, HR5580, in the hopper on July 1 to “exempt minor league players from certain federal wage and overtime requirements, putting them on equal footing with workers in a dozen other unique industries,” their fact sheet says.

“If the law is not clarified, the costs to support local teams would likely increase dramatically and usher in significant cuts across the league, threatening the primary pathway to the majors and putting teams at risk. The impact on teams could also have a significant, negative economic impact on businesses and workers that rely on minor league baseball,” it adds. The lawsuit paints a far different picture.

“Efforts to unionize minor leaguers have been unsuccessful because minor leaguers fear retaliation by the seemingly omnipotent defendants. Striving towards a lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues, minor leaguers are reluctant to upset the status quo,” it says.

The suit quoted retired minor league Dan Peltier asking “What minor league player is going to jeopardize his career by challenging the system?” Peltier, in 1997, compared the minor leagues to “indentured servitude of the 1700s…A team can buy you, sell you, send you to another country, or fire you whenever they want. They can cut you if you get hurt…Obsession with making the majors should not be a justification for the current treatment of minor league players, and I certainly hope it would not be used as an excuse to give major league and minor league owners a legal blank check.”

Photo: stock photo


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR

Sorry. No data so far.