Minor league ballplayers received a big win today when they were granted class action status in their suit against Major League Baseball, per J.J. Cooper of Baseball America. The Supreme Court ruling on Monday denied MLB’s appeal to a previous ruling that granted class action status to a group of 29 players currently suing Major League Baseball for violation of minimum wage laws. Were MLB’s appeal granted, players would have had to individually bring their cases against MLB. For these players, most of whom were never able to reap the benefits of a full-scale major league salary, individual lawsuits simply wouldn’t be financially viable – certainly not against a financial giant like Major League Baseball.
Instead, the floodgates are open and we can expect a great number of players to join those currently named in the suit. Cooper suggests the number of parties could grow to include potentially every minor league player that participated in the system since February 7, 2009. Said Cooper, “It potentially includes almost every affiliated minor league baseball player of the past decade. With more than 6,000 players participating in minor league baseball in a normal year, the number of eligible players could be measured in tens of thousands.”
The case now expects to move forward sometime in 2021, writes The Athletic’s Evan Drellich. Drellich provides a quote from lead attorney – a former minor-leaguer himself – Garrett Broshuis, who explains the violation of minimum wage laws as viewed by the players: “…it’s important to keep in mind that these players are workers and just like all other workers across the country, they deserve to have the benefits of our minimum wage laws. And it’s important for players to be able to band together and pursue that collectively. And so this case is a recognition that the players have the right to do that, and hopefully sometime soon players will be treated with the respect that they deserve and will at some point finally be paid wages that will allow them to live at levels above the poverty level.”
The state of Minor League Baseball remains entirely in flux since the expiration of the agreement between MLB and MiLB last week. Major League Baseball is expected to bring minor league teams under the MLB umbrella, eliminating 40-some teams in the process. Monday’s ruling represents a significant point of negotiation as MLB works with those owners of minor league clubs to come to some kind of accord prior to next season. Owners are saddled with significant time sensitivity, since their stadiums are their greatest revenue assets, and without a minor-league schedule, their hands are tied in terms of seeking out alternative or supplemental revenue opportunities. Especially after a season lost due to the pandemic, those minor league owners are in a difficult negotiating position.
Both Cooper and Drellich provided this statement from Major League Baseball: “While Major League Baseball does not comment on ongoing litigation, MLB remains focused on modernizing its player development system to enhance the Minor League experience for players, including providing them with renovated facilities, reduced travel and improved daily working conditions. MLB has long planned to increase Minor League player salaries as part of our next agreement with Minor League clubs, and announced earlier this year that Minor League players would be receiving salary increases ranging from 38 percent to 72 percent for the 2021 season.”