As federal legislators weigh a spending bill today, the financial fates of thousands of minor-leaguers hang in the balance. That’s because, as Maury Brown of Forbes and Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post are among those to report, the bill presently includes a carve-out of minor-league players from certain labor protections.
Rather cynically dubbed the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” the language would amend the New Deal-era Fair Labor Standards Act. Young sub-MLB ballplayers would be removed from the purview of minimum-wage and overtime protections. Instead, they’d be entitled only to be paid the minimum wage required for a forty-hour work week, during the season, “irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.”
Evidently, the pending legislation provided an opening for this previously proposed but never-enacted exemption, which would be expected to largely forestall several pending lawsuits that challenge current labor practices with regard to players who are not on a 40-man roster. Even as the league has litigated those matters, the reports detail, it has boosted its spending on lobbying efforts in recent years in search of another way of dealing with the claims.
By Brown’s count, at any given time there are about 6,500 players working in the minors without 40-man spots. They are only paid while actually playing games in a MiLB industry that Brown says drew over 41 million in attendance last year. Thus, it is typical for players to take home only “between three thousand and seventy-five hundred dollars, total, during a roughly five-month championship season, with no overtime pay,” as Mary Pilon explained a few years back in The New Yorker. Some number of those players certainly receive a significant inducement to accept such an undesirable salary situation, though the vast majority achieve only minimal bonuses when they became professionals.
Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner says the law is about making sure players aren’t prevented from doing extra work to hone their skills and argues that “the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable.” As Jon Shepherd of Camden Depot explains, though, that’s not exactly an argument that decides the subject, not least because players could (as they surely do already) elect to train more or less based upon their own preferences, on their own time. His extensive post is well worth a full read for those interested in getting a sense of the overall costs involved, how they relate to team revenues, and whether there are some other potential solutions that would be both equitable and workable.