Over the past few years, there has been a battle over the current salary construct in Minor League Baseball. We have seen this battle take place in the Courts, and we are about to see this battle take place on the floors of Congress.
For players whose entire year is focused upon training and playing baseball, they are not paid a wage commensurate with their hours worked. In fact, many players only make $1,100 per month and that is only for those months in which they play baseball.
Owners of Minor League teams have argued with a different wage scale, they simply couldn’t afford to pay the players.
“We’re not saying [the wages] shouldn’t go up,” said Minor League Baseball Commission Pat O’Conner. “We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”
So far, the first two rounds in this battle have been a split decision.
The Minor League players say their attempts to sue for a living wage fail in the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals. In that case, entitled Miranda v. Selig, the Appellate Court ruled, “because the Court is bound by Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent upholding the business of baseball’s exemption from federal antitrust laws, and because Congress explicitly exempted Minor League baseball in the Curt Flood Act of 1998, the players failed to state an antitrust claim.”
Perhaps scared off by the court case, Major League Baseball lobbied for another more fool-proof statute designed to bar further law suits and to strengthen their hold on Minor League players. Their stand alone bill named the “Save America’s Pastime Act” gained no traction and did not receive a vote despite Major League baseball hiring prominent lobbying groups to try to push it through.
There is still litigation pending on the issue, and Major League Baseball has continued their attempts to ensure protection from all future litigation. It seems now Major League Baseball may soon strike the final blow and gain complete victory.
According to the Washington Post, three Congressional officials inform their is currently “[a] massive government spending bill that Congress is expected to consider this week could include a provision exempting Minor League Baseball players from federal labor laws.”
In what has become an increasingly polarized and politicized world, there may very well be blame and anger directed at Republicans. Certainly, critics have their fuel with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell being one of the individuals named as backing the measure. However, it needs to be pointed out the “leaders of both parties have been willing to entertain the measure.” Somewhat tellingly, party leadership in both houses declined to comment.
Certainly, Major League Baseball will argue this is needed to protect the minor league game. For the players, this is seen as another more sinister attempt to prevent players from earning a living wage.
“This is about billionaire owners using their clout to try to pass something that isn’t going through the normal procedures of legislature and that is only going to make thousands of minor leaguers suffer even more,” Garret R. Broshius, an attorney representing the players alleging a violation of federal wage and hour laws said. “We’re just talking about basic minimum wage laws here — the same laws that McDonald’s has to comply with, the same laws that Walmart has to comply with.
“And so surely if Walmart or McDonald’s can find a way to comply with those laws, then Major League Baseball can find a way to comply with them, too.”
Over the next weeks and months, we will soon find out if Congress will find a way to permanently give the Minor Leagues an exemption from federal wage laws, or if this battle will continue to play out in Courts.
If baseball labor history is any measure, this will eventually require a group of players to strike to finally force the issue. The question there is whether players whose entire future and dreams are on the line will eventually put it all on the line. So far, Major League and Minor League Baseball have guessed correctly those players won’t.