Should minor-league baseball players receive more pay?
That’s the issue at the heart of a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball that has heated up after two members of Congress introduced a bill that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), clarifying that minor-league players are not subject to a law intended to protect workers in traditional hourly-rate jobs.
Congressman Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois introduced the bipartisan Save America’s Pastime Act on June 24 in the House of Representatives. The bill has the support of both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball.
Congressman Brett Guthrie and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos introduce the Save America's Pastime Act in House of Reps pic.twitter.com/AL8ohwqwuo— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) June 29, 2016
On Thursday, Bustos rescinded her support of the bill.
“Minor-league baseball teams are an important part of the economic and social fabric of communities across our nation, including the Quad-Cities and Peoria, in our Congressional District,” Bustos said in a statement. “In the last 24 hours, several concerns about the bill have been brought to my attention that have led me to immediately withdraw my support of the legislation … I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players that draw us to stadiums like those in the Quad-Cities and Peoria.”
Bustos concluded her statement by adding, “…I believe that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor-league players a fair wage for the work they do.”
As ESPN and other outlets reported, Bustos is the daughter of a former MLB lobbyist named Gene Callahan. Bustos and Guthrie have received donations from MLB’s PAC, according to FEC filings in February.
Major League Baseball issued a statement on Thursday supporting the Save America’s Pastime Act. MLB said it pays more than a half a billion dollars to minor-league players in signing bonuses and salary every year, and that minor-league clubs could not afford those player costs on their own.
“Being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career,” according to the statement.
“Minor League Baseball players always have been salaried employees similar to artists, musicians and other creative professionals who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act,” MLB added. “Like those professionals, it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees whose pay may be determined by such things as how long their games last, when they choose to arrive at the ballpark, how much they practice or condition to stay in shape, and how many promotional or charitable appearances they make.”
The lawsuit, Senne v. Office of Major League Baseball, was filed in February 2014. A California federal judge granted class certification in the case last October.
Attorney Garrett Broshuis, who played six seasons of minor-league baseball in the San Francisco Giants organization, is representing the class of about 2,300 former and current players.
Broshuis claims that minor-league salaries of between $1,150 and $2,150 per month (with a $25 per diem) are not enough and below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. As a $9 billion industry, baseball should do more, he says.
Broshuis disagrees with the notion that a cost increase “would jeopardize the skills-enhancement role of the minor leaguers and the existence of Minor League Baseball itself,” according to a press release about the bill.
“The idea that suddenly paying more minor-league players to reach a minimum wage is going to lead to the implosion of minor-league baseball is absurd,” Broshuis told The Kansas City Star. “Certainly there is enough money at the top for a slight increase in wages that should have been done years ago. Baseball has ignored this for so long that wages have fallen below minimum.”