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


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.