Former minor-league player Garrett Broshuis has filed a lawsuit on behalf of several dozen former minor-league players against Major League Baseball (MLB) and its 30 teams. Broshuis contends that the MLB is “simply not living up to its legal obligations” in regards to state and federal minimum wage and overtime laws. Last year’s average salary for major-league players was $3.39 million, and the current minimum salary is $500,000. Most minor-league players make between $1,100 to $2,150 per month from April to September.

Such salary puts players well below the federal poverty level for a single person of $11,670. Most players work part-time jobs to supplement their salary during the winter months when they aren’t being paid for spring training or off-season instructional games. During the 140-game season a typical work week can stretch to 70 hours, and days “off” can include long hours of bus travel. Although players do receive a per diem meal allowance of $25—only while on the road—such compensation is lower than a minor-league umpire who receives $42.50 to $56 depending on their level.

The lawsuit’s outcome is difficult to predict due to baseball’s special antitrust exemption. In 1922, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes argued that the sport would not be a trade of commerce, even though it made money. That decision, which allowed the MLB to operate as a monopoly, was upheld in 1972. To get around the antitrust exemption, the lawsuit appeals to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was enacted to protect vulnerable workers from excessively low wages and long hours. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act requires minimum wage and overtime pay for certain employees, it does not directly address minor-league players. This would require a judge, or a jury if the players’ request is granted, will have to interpret how the language of the law applies to players.

Wages law is complex and there is difficulty in interpreting what type of work the players do, as well as the type of employees that fall under the Act. For instance, some of the work that players do falls outside of the scope of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Act does not cover personal advancement, which could arguably encompass the some of the training and personal fitness they players undertake throughout the year. Additionally, the MLB will likely argue that the players are “seasonal” employees, which would again take them out of the scope of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The case law is split on this issue. While a 1995 Florida court upheld the seasonal exemption in regards to a groundskeeper’s complaint for overtime pay, three years later and Ohio appeals court came to the opposite conclusion on a different case brought by the maintenance crew of the Cincinnati Reds.

This case of statutory interpretation is anything but minor—not only will its outcome affect the more than 6,000 current and former minor-league players, but it could also set precedent in the current wave of labor-related legal action making big-time sports play on the same field as every other employer.

 

Sara Whaley

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One Response to Foul Play?: Minor League Players Allege They Are Not Paid Fairly

  1. Kevin Cavino says:

    It’s pretty funny when people think about “overpaid” athletes they never seem to realize that the vast majority of players, specifically baseball here, are making a pittance relative to public perception. It’s also strange that major league baseball essentially acts with immunity in a lot of areas because they were ruled “special” ninety years ago. Maybe it’s time to rethink that when you see that they are taking advantage of that exemption in ways such as keeping minor league players below the poverty line.