House Democrat Backs Away From Bill to Exempt Minor League Players From Minimum Wage

Jeannette Richard | July 5, 2016 | 11:59am EDT
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Shortstop Jose Reyes (center) chats with minor league teammates on the Brooklyn Cyclones before being reactivated by the New York Mets. (AP photo)


( -- One of the co-sponsors of a bipartisan bill to exempt minor league baseball players from minimum wage and overtime requirements in order to prevent many minor league baseball clubs from potentially having to close down has withdrawn her support for the legislation.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), who introduced the bill with Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) at the end of June, changed her mind and is now opposed to the legislation she co-sponsored, stating that “while it’s important to sustain minor league baseball teams that provide economic support to small communities across America, I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players that draw us to stadiums….

“Whether it’s on the factory floor, in classrooms or on the playing fields of one of America’s revered traditions, I strongly support raising the minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining for fair wages.”

The bill (H.R. 5580) Bustos initially sponsored, which is titled the Save America’s Pastime Act, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to add “any employee who has entered into a contract to play baseball at the minor league level” to the list of employees exempted from federal minimum wage and maximum hour requirements.

Current law already exempts “any employee employed by an establishment which is an amusement or recreational establishment...if (A) it does not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year,” which could arguably be applied to minor league players.

“Minor League Baseball is a beloved game in communities across America...The game provides an affordable, family-friendly environment while bringing revenue to host cities and contributing to broader economic development,” Guthrie said in a statement on June 24 announcing his introduction of the bill, which he said would “ensure that this great game and the communities that support it are protected from potentially devastating cuts.”

Though most Minor League Baseball (MiLB) clubs, where many Major League Baseball (MLB) players are sent to develop their skills, are independently owned, they are affiliated with MLB teams, and the players’ contracts are paid by MLB.

While Major League Baseball players often make headlines with multi-million dollar contracts, Minor League Baseball players typically make only $1,100 per month (although many make more than that) with a $25/day meal allowance when on a road trip, while playing six or seven games a week during the two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half month season.

In addition, over 300 newly-drafted players each year also receive a signing bonus before starting their minor league assignments. In the draft last month, players received bonuses ranging from $2,500 - $6.1 million.

An ongoing class action lawsuit filed against MLB in a federal court in California by several former minor league players alleges that minor league players are not paid in accordance with the law, and that they work over 50 hours a week without getting overtime pay.

“Given that MLB carefully controls the entryway into the highest levels of baseball, and given the young minor leaguer’s strong desire to enter the industry, MLB and the Defendants have exploited minor leaguers by paying salaries below minimum wage, by not paying overtime wages, and by often paying no wages at all,” the brief alleged.

But MiLB vice president Stan Brand told that players’ salaries are not in violation of minimum wage and overtime requirements. Other than the roughly three hours a night when players are actually playing a game, the work hours the players are claiming in the lawsuit are hours spent hanging out in the locker rooms, riding on the team bus, or training for the benefit of their own professional careers, and so should not be counted as overtime hours, he said.

According to MiLB, which drew 42.5 million fans across the country last year, many minor league clubs could go out of business if the federal court rules in favor of the players, and so the organization applauded the Save America’s Pastime Act.

“This suit threatens baseball's decades-old player development system with an unprecedented cost increase, which would jeopardize the skills-enhancement role of the minor leagues and the existence of Minor League Baseball itself,” the organization said.

“As a result of this lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of current and former players, many cities would be in jeopardy of losing their Minor League Baseball teams, resulting in the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs nationwide, shuttering tax-payer funded ballparks and creating a void in affordable family-friendly entertainment.”

“For over 115 years, Minor League Baseball has been a staple of American communities, large and small, and with the help of Congressman Guthrie, Congresswoman Bustos and other members of Congress, it will remain so for years to come,” said Minor League Baseball President and CEO Pat O'Conner before Bustos withdrew her support.

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