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Minor League Baseball Players File Suit

By Jeffrey Biel

On February 7, 2014, three former prospects, Aaron Senne of the Miami Marlins, Oliver Odle of the San Francisco Giants, and Michael Liberto of the Kansas City Royals filed a federal lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB), commissioner Bud Selig, the Royals, Marlins and Giants for violations of federal and state wage and hour laws (Senne v. MLB). While Minor League Baseball has been in existence since the 1800's, this will mark the first time that MLB will have to answer and defend the low wages it pays to Minor League players. While elite prospects receive large bonuses to cover their expenses throughout the year, most players must work second and third jobs to make ends meet and cover the training expenses expected in the off-season.

Sports law professor and Sports Illustrated columnist Michael McCann recently wrote an article for Sports Illustrated detailing the paltry salaries earned by typical Minor Leaguers. In fact, most players earn between $3,000 to $7,500 for a five-month season. In comparison, a typical fast food worker earns between $15,000 and $18,000 a year. With the federal poverty level at $11,490, most Minor League players are consistently below this level. Although many players do receive a signing bonus, the complaint alleges that the average signing bonus is only $2,500. Minor Leaguers do receive a salary increase as they climb the ladder from AA to AAA teams, but many players will never reach those levels and could remain playing A ball for a substantial amount of time.

Minor League Players typically sign contracts in the six-year range, which gives players no leverage to renegotiate until they becomes free agents. For the lowest level of the Minor Leagues, the maximum that players can earn is $1,100 per month. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and over a typical 40-hour work week, that totals $1,160. Thus, even the players that are making the maximum (excluding signing bonuses) at the lowest levels are being paid below the federal minimum wage.

Critics of the complaint argue that unhappy Minor League players should quit and find other jobs, but this does not answer the facts alleged in the lawsuit. Minor League players have been unable to form a player's union like their Major League counterparts, which is part of the reason that these conditions still exist. Additionally, baseball is the only sport that still enjoys a blanket antitrust exemption, making it very difficult to sue the MLB for issues of salaries or unfair working conditions. In this new case, the players are attempting to bring a class action lawsuit alleging violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees minimum wage and overtime pay. It will be extremely interested to see how MLB answers this complaint.

For more reading on the case and MLB's possible defenses, please see: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20140212/minor-league-baseball-players-lawsuit/

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 8, 2014 11:00 AM.

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