A law suit filed against Major League Baseball by minor league players that has been pending in the federal court system since 2014 has been settled for $185 million, according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Minor league players claimed that MLB violated federal and state minimum wage laws by paying poverty wages to players, not paying overtime, and not paying them at all for spring training or extended spring training.
Passan wrote: As part of the settlement, MLB will issue a memo that allows teams to pay minor league players during spring training, and extended spring training and instructional leagues in Florida and Arizona. Teams previously had been blocked from doing so.
The settlement has not yet been filed with the court, so the full details are not yet known, but the deal is a clear victory for minor league players who have been struggling for fair wages. MLB has been moving, slowly, toward improving the lives of minor league players, whose salaries are paid by MLB clubs. Teams are required to pay for housing for minor league players under contract starting in 2022 and wages were increased prior to the 2021 season, but still far short of a living wage.
The Los Angeles Times reports that MLB agreed to advise teams that they “must compensate minor league players in compliance with wage-and-hour laws” during spring training and extended spring training.
Missing details include whether players will be paid higher salaries due to the long hours- up to 70 hours per week that they are required to work with their teams during the season. The normal situation is that a player receives a signing bonus from $20,000 to $8 million based on how high they were selected in the amateur draft, and then a minimum salary structure kicks in that pays most players below poverty wages.
Lead attorney for the players, Garrett Brosius, himself a former minor league player, said “This settlement is a monumental step for minor league players toward a fair and just compensation system,”.
MLB also released a statement: “We are only in the second year of a major overhaul of the 100-year-old player development system and have made great strides to improve the quality of life for minor league players,”
In the first year of MLB’s major overhaul, 42 minor league teams and cities lost their MLB affiliation. All indications are that MLB plans to further slash the size of the minor league system. MLB took full control over the operation of affiliated minor leagues after the 2019 season. The 2020 season was canceled due to Covid.
The minimum salary for minor league players is:
- Triple A- $700 per week
- Double A- $600 per week
- Single A and High A- $500 per week
- Short season, Rookie league, and Facilities based leagues- $400 per week.
Since players are only paid during the season, most players receive pay between $5000 and $15,000 annually. During the off season, they are required devote long hours each day to remaining in peak physical condition for their summer jobs.
The law suit was filed in 2014 by Miami Marlins’ minor leaguer Aaron Senne as the class representative. About 20,000 minor league players stand to share the payout, which is expected to be over $120 million after attorneys’ fees and costs. The class includes minor league players who played in Arizona, California, and a large number of those who participated in spring training or extended spring training.
Congress passed a law in 2018 that exempts minor league players from Federal minimum wage laws, as part of the large tax bill that cut taxes mainly for corporations and wealthy individuals.
MLB and minor league owners joined forces to support that legislation, dealing a blow to hopes for minor league players looking for fair wages.
The Curt Flood Act of 1998 applied federal wage laws to major league players, effectively ending MLB’s anti-trust exemption as it applied to major league players. Minor league compensation and control over franchise movement and television markets remain protected by the exemption.
The US Supreme Court denied a motion by MLB to dismiss the suit. MLB was sanctioned $1.8 million by the trial court for failing to pay California minimum wage to players. The court found that players were subject to the State minimum wage laws and were full time employees. The decision by Judge Joseph Spero was a victory for minor league players and signaled that their case had merit. The writing was on the wall.
Advocates for Minor Leaguers said in a statement Friday. “We will not be satisfied until minor leaguers have a seat at the table to negotiate fair wages and working conditions, as is the norm across professional sports,”
Pressure on MLB continued to mount this year as a bipartisan group of Senators investigated the treatment of minor league players, specifically hearing from Advocates for Minor Leaguers, about the affect of MLB’s antitrust exemption on minor league players.
Settlements of this nature generally come with a disclaimer stating that the defendant in the suit admits no wrong doing, but an amount is agreed upon to settle the claim and avoid further litigation. Yet, it would make no sense if the conditions that led to the grievance are not changed. We can expect more than just a memo “allowing” teams to pay players for spring training. Stay tuned.