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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

SFGate: Egelko: Baseball Sued Over Low-Minor League Wages

While major-league baseball players earn millions of dollars and club owners share billions in revenues, minor-leaguers are paid $3,000 to $7,500 per season and train for weeks without pay, in violation of minimum wage and labor laws, their attorneys charge in a lawsuit. The suit filed against Major League Baseball and three teams, including the San Francisco Giants, said baseball executives and club owners “have preyed upon minor leaguers, who are powerless to combat the collusive power of the MLB cartel.”

No apparent shortage of labor, though.

The Yankee Clapper Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:53 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baseball is awash in money, cheap owners, cheapskate, giants, greed, lawsuits, legal, minor leagues, mlb, salaries

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   1. jdennis Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:09 PM (#4659350)
I seem to remember the number 11,000 from 5 years ago or so, was that an average or something? Now 3,000 being thrown out there?
   2. John Northey Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:12 PM (#4659352)
A reasonable argument actually. If they were paid, say, $10 an hour for 40 hours a week ($400 a week) that would be $1600 a month (roughly) which is more than MLB pays guys in the lower levels. The $2150 listed for AAA is (if you go on 40 hours a week x 4 weeks) $13.44 an hour roughly. I suspect MLB will argue they are only paying for game time (2-3 hours a night) and the other stuff is 'optional' plus that MLB provides a food and shelter allowance (I think).

Right now if you are trying to live the dream and were not picked in the first few rounds odds are you are making less than you would working at McDonald's. The argument there are 1000's who'd love to have that shot is a lot like how businesses get away with the scummy 'intern' situation (no pay, lots of hours, earn money for the business but not yourself under the illusion of being trained). Minimum wage laws exist for a reason as it is viewed as the least you can ask for and I'd say it is a safe bet minor leaguers are paid far below that.
   3. Jim Wisinski Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:22 PM (#4659359)
I didn't know about the lack of pay for spring training, that seems like a pretty obvious violation. As for the actual pay itself it doesn't seem like they'd have a real case for higher wages based on the overall revenues of the sport other than the minimum wage/unpaid work hours issue.

One thing I wonder about though and maybe the lawerly types here could answer; do they have some sort of case based on the fact that their rights get bargained away by a union that they aren't allowed to join?
   4. Jim Wisinski Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:34 PM (#4659367)
I suspect MLB will argue they are only paying for game time (2-3 hours a night) and the other stuff is 'optional'


That seems like it would be a hard sell for MLB. I know in the majors they have times well before the start of the game that players are required to meet and probably can get fined if they fail to be on time; if it's the same in the minors with penalties for lateness I think it would be impossible to argue that those aren't work hours. Plus in the upper levels there is more media covering the team so any media availability, etc has to be factored in. And what about travel? If a player is required to take a 6 hour bus ride for the purpose of their job could that be considered work time?

Another question for lawyers: Let's say teams have a "voluntary" time that they want players to arrive at the stadium by before the game, say 4 PM for a 7 PM game. No direct penalties like a fine or being removed from the starting lineup if they don't make it on time but everyone knows that they're supposed to be there at 4 and the organization will be unhappy if they can't consistently make it. Can it be successfully argued that even though it's "voluntary" the failure to meet the deadline will be damaging enough to the player's career (reduced playing time, slower promotion, etc.) that it is in reality a mandatory reporting time and therefore should be paid?
   5. Moeball Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:39 PM (#4659369)
Going back to an interview I saw a while back with Fay Vincent, he was saying some things that I’m sure King Bud didn’t like hearing.

Vincent was basically saying good luck getting rid of steroids and other PEDs in baseball, for the simple reason that while it may be possible to come up with a tough enough deterrent to make a major league player think twice about risking reputation and millions of $$ by using PEDs – a minor league player has virtually nothing to lose at all by taking that same risk. On the upside, maybe you hit the jackpot like Jose Canseco did and make millions; on the downside, if you get caught maybe you get booted out of your crappy paying baseball job and go work at Home Depot or some such job for more money. There’s really not much incentive to discourage minor league players from going down that road being as they get paid so little.
   6. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:29 PM (#4659388)
I would think that MLB will argue that the players are independent contractors, and not employees.

-- MWE
   7. Jim Wisinski Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:15 PM (#4659403)
I would think that MLB will argue that the players are independent contractors, and not employees.


But wouldn't they still be required to pay a contractor enough to satisfy the minimum wage? Regardless of that some quick research seems to indicate that MLB would have a really hard time convincing anyone that players are independent contractors.

IRS

The IRS uses three characteristics to determine the relationship between businesses and workers:

Behavioral Control covers facts that show whether the business has a right to direct or control how the work is done through instructions, training or other means.

Financial Control covers facts that show whether the business has a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker's job.

Type of Relationship factor relates to how the workers and the business owner perceive their relationship.


MLB teams clearly have the right to direct or control how work is done on the baseball field. I'm not sure if anything in the second criteria is relevant but in the third I'm quite sure that the players perceive themselves to be employees of the team and you'd have a hard time arguing that they should think otherwise.

If you have the right to control or direct not only what is to be done, but also how it is to be done, then your workers are most likely employees.


MLB teams pretty clearly control what the players do and how they do it, unless you turn things over to a full staff of player-managers and -coaches then they don't have control over decisions on how to go win a baseball game.

Legalzoom

Common law principles further define independent contractor status by method of compensation. If a person is on an employer's payroll and receives a steady paycheck, clearly that the person is an employee rather than an independent contractor, who likely receives payment in a different manner


A minor league player certainly receives a steady paycheck from the team.

If the worker supplies his or her own equipment, materials and tools


Players do not

Again, the nature of the work will help define the relationship. When work is considered integral to the business, it is more likely that the person is an employee. On the other hand, work that is temporary and non integral may imply independent contractor status.


Can't play games without the players

In an attempt to interpret provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and discern between employee and independent contractor status, some courts and federal agencies have come up with the "economic realities test." It looks at the dependence of the worker on the business for which he or she works. If a person gains a large portion of their salary from that business, chances are that person qualifies as an employee.


During the baseball season the player gains nearly all their salary from playing for the team, other than some possible endorsements and such. They have no realistic opportunity to do any significant amount of other work during the season.

There is various other stuff in that link, some of which might be able to be interpreted to favor the contractor designation but by and large the criteria clearly point to players needing to be considered employees.
   8. Dr. Vaux Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:16 PM (#4659405)
Just like adjuncting.
   9. ptodd Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:46 PM (#4659419)
I wonder if this is the main reason high school athletes who can choose sports due to their talent and/or size focus more on basketball and football, and perhaps explains the drop in African American players, who seem to play in both sports in disproportionate numbers relative to their population. MLB has a cheap labour pool in Latin America so probably can afford to let the African American talent go if it means keeping down minor league costs.

Most minor league players have jobs just to give the "prospects' someone to play against. I guess it would be one thing if minimum wage had actually kept pace with "real" inflation over the last 40 years and provided a living wage, but it does not. For a 8 billion industry to underpay American workers like this, you would think there would be more of a backlash.
   10. madvillain Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:53 PM (#4659423)
I wonder if this is the main reason high school athletes who can choose sports due to their talent and/or size focus more on basketball and football, and perhaps explains the drop in African American players, who seem to play in both sports in disproportionate numbers relative to their population.


Nah, it's because those sports are more popular, and in basketball's sake, vastly more easy to play and organize in the inner city. All you need is a 200 sq ft chunk of concrete and a hoop for a 3 on 3 game 24/7. No field, no mitts, no bats, just a ball and the hoop.

Football is the most popular sport in America; even though its average salary and career length would logically preclude anyone from attempting to make a career out of it, lot of kids like football and one thing leads to another for an elite few. Players on the fringes of the NFL don't make squat, and risk tremendous injury to their bodies in order to so, it's sad. Heck, stars in the NFL sometimes don't even make squat, yea in this case squat might be 1 million guaranteed, but when the commissioner is making 44 million a year, well, the NFL can go #### itself imo.

For a 8 billion industry to underpay American workers like this, you would think there would be more of a backlash.


I agree, but IMO, what the NFL has done and continues to do is far, far more grievous, and nobody gives half a ####. Hell, the NFL has managed to not pay their minor league players at all, under the guise of amateur athletics, not that's a coup!
   11. John Northey Posted: February 20, 2014 at 07:31 AM (#4659496)
A big part of no backlash is the envy factor. Many people wish they could've had a shot at the dream and would happily play in the minors for nothing. However, those people would be (at least the vast majority) grossly underqualified to do so. I know I'd happily play a season even now for virtually nothing just to say I did, but at 44 and with no real talent I'd probably be lucky to not strike out every AB or to get one or two outs while on the mound (last time I tried to pitch everyone thought I was throwing knuckleballs when I was throwing my 'fastball').

Golf has the independent contractor argument easily for its equivalent to the minors (players provide their own clubs & balls, go from tournament to tournament on their own, no penalty for skipping outside of no pay for that tournament, pay is purely on how they did over those 3-4 days). MLB (and the NHL and NBA for that matter) does not.
   12. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: February 20, 2014 at 09:14 AM (#4659501)
I would think that MLB will argue that the players are independent contractors, and not employees.


An independent contractor could shop his services to another client. Until Byron Buxton can shop himself to the Yankees in the offseason, he's not an independent contractor.
   13. DL from MN Posted: February 20, 2014 at 09:45 AM (#4659514)
Thanks for making my point Rickey!. I've never heard of a draft of "independent contractors".
   14. AROM Posted: February 20, 2014 at 09:58 AM (#4659517)
Heck, stars in the NFL sometimes don't even make squat, yea in this case squat might be 1 million guaranteed


If I made a million dollars a year doing what I do, I'd consider myself rich. I could pretty much do anything I wanted in life short of buying a MLB franchise or private jet.

But making that much in the NFL as a fringe player, I would not be spending much, considering the odds are the gravy train probably lasts only 2-5 years optimistically and the risk that every next game could be my last.
   15. attaboy Posted: February 20, 2014 at 10:52 AM (#4659547)
Well, if they are good enough, they can play independent ball, anytime they want for more money. It is certainly their option to play low A ball or whatever levels pay so little. They can walk away and/or they can chose to go play in another country for more money. Seems like the teams they play on might very well lose money but is a necessary evil for the major league teams to keep around so they keep getting a pool of talent flowing to their major league team where they do make significant money. Now, if those low level A teams are profitable, then I have a bigger problem with this.
   16. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: February 20, 2014 at 11:02 AM (#4659553)
An independent contractor could shop his services to another client. Until Byron Buxton can shop himself to the Yankees in the offseason, he's not an independent contractor.


I recall the WWF long claiming all of their pro-rasslers as "independent contractors" despite the fact that they were signed to exclusive contracts and couldn't wrestle elsewhere.
   17. DL from MN Posted: February 20, 2014 at 11:34 AM (#4659575)
Major league players have organized. Any reason why minor league players can't organize?
   18. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 20, 2014 at 11:34 AM (#4659576)
It seems reasonable to expect minor league players to at least be paid minimum wage on a yearly, 40 hours per week basis, which would be around $16,000 a year. It seems unreasonable to not to so.

It also disappoints me that society at large doesn't demand laws outlawing corporate slave labor under the guise of "internship". But I guess it's one of those things that should be obvious to everyone but never seems important enough to make any individual citizen's top ten political priorities.
   19. Rennie's Tenet Posted: February 20, 2014 at 11:49 AM (#4659590)
Here's the complaint in the case:

Senne v. MLB complaint

One of the lawyers is the former minor leaguer featured in this 2012 Slate article:

Garrett Broshius

I didn't read the complaint, but the section on state law violations runs to 14 pages, so federal wage and hour may be a sideshow.
   20. DL from MN Posted: February 20, 2014 at 01:54 PM (#4659688)
I'm not sure why MLB wants future talent using food stamps.

What would it cost to double the pay of low level minor leaguers? We're talking about about roughly 100 teams x 25 players x $5000 each or $12.5M divided by 30 teams is $416,000 or one MLB minimum salary for each team. Giving everyone in the minor leagues an extra $5000 would be about twice that much.
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 20, 2014 at 02:03 PM (#4659698)
I'm not sure why MLB wants future talent using food stamps.

Because people like money. It can be exchanged for goods and services.

Rich people like money even more than the rest of us. That's usually why they're rich. Well, that and a flexible sense of ethics and morality.

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