Owen Laird, Esq.
Today is Opening Day for the 2018 Major League Baseball season. Spring training is over, and while the Major Leaguers head back to their stadiums, the Minor League players who didn’t make the cut are headed back to work as well. Those Minor Leaguers might be a little worse off this year because of the sweeping $1.3 trillion budget bill that President Trump signed last week. One of the more nuanced aspects of the bill is an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) known as the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” This amendment aims to “save” baseball by suppressing the wages that minor league teams pay to their players.
While major league baseball players enjoy a minimum annual salary—which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, with top players earning tens of millions of dollars a year—minor league baseball players are a different story. Not only do minor league players significantly outnumber major league players, but, unlike major league players, minor leaguers are not unionized. As a result, baseball’s minor leagues are populated with thousands of players, many of whom are barely squeaking by.
Most workers have the right to receive a minimum wage, as well as overtime pay for any hours worked above 40 in a work week. Many categories of employees, however, are “exempt” from those overtime requirements. For example, “professional” employees, such as doctors, teachers, and architects, are not entitled to overtime pay; nor are “executive” employees—that is, those with managerial or supervisory responsibilities—or “administrative” employees. In addition to these broader categories of exemptions, more specific exemptions for certain industries exist as well, such as outside salespeople and agricultural workers.
The new budget bill contains an amendment to the FLSA that adds an exemption for minor league baseball players. This new exemption creates additional security for minor league baseball teams, who had previously attempted to avoid paying overtime by classifying their players as exempt “creative professionals” or “seasonal” workers. The operative text of the act exempts:
[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not 15 spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.
During the season, minor league baseball players regularly work much more than the standard 40-hour work week. A 2015 lawsuit alleged that players routinely worked 60- to 70-hour weeks, due to playing six games a week, traveling between cities, and daily workouts and practices. The new FLSA amendment, however, allows teams to pay its players only the minimum wage for 40 hours a week during the season—no matter how many hours players actually work. This is on top of an unpaid spring training schedule and unpaid offseason, during which players must work and train largely on their own. The effect of this law—saving clubs a few million dollars—pales in comparison with expenses on the major league level.
Even though baseball is a multibillion–dollar-a-year industry, and even though minor league clubs are largely subsidized by their major league parents, it still fought for the right to pay its lowest-paid players a borderline unlivable wage. This story serves as an important reminder: To corporations, wages are to be suppressed to the maximum effective amount.
If you believe you are not being paid the minimum wage or are being denied overtime pay, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.