New battleground for the minimum wage fight: baseball

Perhaps it figures that when a Republican and Democrat finally get together on bipartisan legislation in Congress, it intends to enrich fat cats and stiff people trying to make a living.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) have introduced the “Save America’s Pastime Act” (H.R. 5580) which aims to strip minor league baseball players from minimum wage statutes and overtime pay.

[Update 12:59 p.m. 6/30 – Rep. Bustos announced she is withdrawing her support.]

Their legislation comes in response to a lawsuit filed by several ballplayers against Major League Baseball claiming they are denied the protections afforded other workers.

City Pages reported last year, for example, that the St. Paul Saints players make on average about $1,400 a month. That’s better than some players elsewhere.

Most minor league ballplayers earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season, according to Sports Illustrated. Sure, some will make it to the majors — where the minimum salary is $500,000; most won’t.

Baseball has been able to pay minor leaguers low wages partly because of a historical exemption from antitrust law. The exemption allows baseball to unilaterally set salaries and working conditions for minor league players.

Without this exemption, minor league players could theoretically sue under the Sherman Act, and argue that big league and minor league owners have conspired to unreasonably limit salaries. While this exemption was narrowed by the Curt Flood Act of 1998, it remains in effect for Minor League Baseball.

Baseball has also benefited by the inability of minor league players to form a union, which could advocate for higher player compensation and hold leverage through the power to strike. There have been multiple unionization efforts over the years, but none have convinced minor leaguers to join hands.

The failure of unionization likely reflects different career priorities for prospects and veteran minor leaguers and fear of retaliation by big league teams. Unless they have appeared on a big league team’s 40-man roster, minor leaguers are not members of Major League Baseball Players’ Association.

“You’re working seven days a week more often than six days. For a 7 o’clock game, you’re often getting to the ballpark around 1 o’clock, many, many hours before the game because you have all the pregame work you have to do,” Garrett Broshuis, a former minor leaguer and one of the attorneys in the lawsuit tells The Sporting News. “And you often aren’t leaving until 11. Those are 10-hour days. Even on day games, you’re putting in six hours or so.

“So you’re talking about a few dollars an hour that all minor leaguers are making, and as a result you have guys piling six or seven deep into a two-bedroom apartment, sleeping on air mattresses. You go into a minor leaguer’s apartment and it’s not uncommon to see two air mattresses in the living room. They don’t have furniture, they have air mattresses, because that’s where guys sleep.”

Rep. Bustos, a Democrat who supports raising the minimum wage, is also the daughter of baseball’s first lobbyist, according to Above the Law.

  • Matt Black

    We were at the Saints game Monday night and the guys behind us were guessing the players made around a few thousand dollars a week. They were absolutely floored when I said the Saints were one of the better paying Independent teams at a couple of hundred dollars a week. I think there is such a disconnect for what a minor league player, especially one not on a 40-man roster, makes that this stands pretty good chance of passing.

    The life of a minor league ball player, especially one below the AAA level, is not a glamorous one. You’re staying there fighting purely because you love the game and you are fighting for your chance to play on a big league field one day.

    • When I worked in NY, I covered the baseball strike in ’85 or ’86 — one of those years — and I was hanging around the hotel where the negotiations were taking place, waiting for a news conference to start announcing a settlement.

      During that time, I got a chance to talk to Terry Leach, who was 31 years old by then, didn’t make it to the majors until he was 27, originally drafted by the Red Sox in ’76 and started his minor league career with Atlanta a year later.

      He provided a REALLY good picture of what life is like for a minor leaguer, things I’d never thought about, like all the money you lose on lost security deposits and rents because you get traded or promoted or demoted etc.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/leachte01.shtml

      At least he won a World Series a year later, though he appeared in only 6 games. I often wondered if the players voted him a full share.

      He pitched until age 39 — including a couple of seasons with the Twins — peaking at $500,000 one year.

      The very definition of a journeyman.

      • Erik Petersen

        6 games in Sept with the ’86 Mets, and not on the post season roster… I doubt he got a playoff share at all.

        On the other hand…. And totally off topic…Leach is a guy who should not have had a major league career. Non-prospect who wasn’t drafted, maybe fair to say probably not even an elite athlete like almost all his peers over the years. Played 11 years, made 2M, has a pension. Baseball giveth…

      • 212944

        Richard Panek’s mid-90s’ book on the Waterloo Diamonds gives some great insight to a minor leaguer’s life (https://www.amazon.com/Waterloo-Diamonds-Richard-Panek/dp/0312132093/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467773797&sr=8-1&keywords=Waterloo+diamonds). There is a lot of stuff in there only of interest to people from Waterloo or who followed minor league ball there going back to the 1940s, but the stuff about the players, manager and coaches is well worth skimming to read.

        Also, the short stories of Jerry Klinkowitz, a university English professor who was one of the 12 or 15 owners of the Diamonds – well-written fiction, but clearly Jerry had some real life observations on which to create his mythical team and season.

    • Erik Petersen

      I’d really doubt the Saints are ‘one of the better paying’ independent teams. Their league probably has a uniform player contract, and all the players in it are around that $1400.

      Much as Mike Veeck is a likable character, this a reason not to beatify him. Those are exploitation wages, and hes complicit in that for sake of his own profit.

    • Jon

      The economic terms for “love of the game” and “chance to play in the big league” are “subjective value” and “option value”. For most, there is enough of that value present that teams needn’t pay anything to attract the top talent. Also, many minor leaguers, if they are any good, will get a decent if not great signing bonus. First round draft picks out of high school often see 7 figure signing bonuses without ever seeing the bigs.

      • The number of people who get bonuses is very small and obvious the minimum wage issue doesn’t apply to them.

        What you’re describing, though, is the “you’re just lucky to have a job” mentality described here earlier.

        • Jon

          No, what I describing is the “you’re lucky to be playing a child’s game for money mentality.”

          • Jeff

            Sports is entertainment. So by definition players are entertainers. When I pay to be entertained by someone I generally expect them to be paid a fair wage.

  • Gary F

    Are they having a hard time getting good players at that low rate?

  • Jon

    Hard to believe some people can have the gall to lament their wages for playing a child’s game.

    • Erik Petersen

      That’s an obtuse and / or child-like understanding.

      It’s an adult job in an enterprise that makes gobs of money, they ought to be paid adult wages from that revenue.

      • Jon

        So the notion that “other people have lots of money and that’s not fair, they should share it,” isn’t obtuse and / or child-like?

        • We’re not talking about fair. We’re talking about legal. The players aren’t asking for creation of a law; they’re seeking a declaration that the law applies to them.

          That sounds like a job for the courts. But the business, in this case, is using its political connections to attempt to strip the players from being allowed to make their case.

          • Jeff

            You’re essentially making the argument for paying NCAA players…

          • Jon

            Yes, unless a “free education” (haha) is enough to entice the athletes.

          • It would be OK with me if they paid NCAA players. OTOH, the baseball anti-trust exemption makes it an apples and oranges comparison.

            Step one in applying to to the NCAA would be not classifying them as students and not providing any benefits as students.

            But at least the NCAA players had a chance to litigate their claim, which the minor league players may not be able to.

          • Jon

            Maybe you’re talking about legal, in which case I support kicking Uncle Sam out of the sports business and forcing MiLB and others to be subject to the same laws as all other businesses (counter productive minimum wage laws included – we can debate repealing those in another forum).

            My entire point was that the whole endeavor is silly and unjustifiable for minor league baseball players because their position is simply a money grab. Their motivation to play minor league ball has little to nothing to do with the piddly wage they are receiving, and everything to do with the lottery ticket and sheer enjoyment they get from playing.

          • Do you enjoy your job? The notion that someone should not be covered by an existing law because they enjoy their job (or even that they someday might become good enough at it to advance in their occupation) seems a questionable defense.

            Now, granted that may be one that some lawyer might use in litigation. But the additional notion of politicians colluding to also strip the right of litigation to answer the question is pretty indefensible.

          • Jon

            Again, we are in agreement that they should be covered by the minimum wage laws from a standpoint that MiLB doesn’t need or deserve an exemption. But that was never my point, nor do I really care. Once more, I’m just stating that justifying a government mandated wage floor is impossible on moral or economic grounds (again, not legal). And that they sound silly complaining about wages when we all know that money has nothing to do with it and this is purely a money grab.

          • Rob

            A government mandated wage floor is totally justifiable on moral and economic grounds. It’s called the living wage concept.

          • Rob

            Yes, the more you enjoy your job, the less you should be paid. In fact, anyone who enjoys their job should be so grateful for it that they should not only work for free, but should be paying their employer for the privilege of having such an enjoyable job.

    • This is a fairly common statement that is designed to minimize what they do. It’s true, children play baseball. Children run for student president of 2nd grade, though, and we still pay politicians a lot of money.

      The fact of the matter is, it is employment and while we might think that a kid could hit a 96 mph fastball or a curve (they can’t), it’s not really a compelling argument for why labor laws should apply to some and not someone else, let alone why it’s the business of the U.S. House of Representatives.

      • Jon

        I’m not minimizing, or aggrandizing, what they do, merely calling it like it is. Fundamentally, they are “working” for a lottery ticket or simply for personal enjoyment. We can debate the applicability of misguided labor laws ad nauseum, but the profession of minor league baseball player is first and foremost a deliberate gamble which these individuals want subsidized.

        • Joe

          But they are providing a service. The Saints make money. They do so because they have ballplayers. They also do so because they have concessions stand workers, and security guards, and bartenders, and announcers, and PR people. Minimum wage laws apply to everyone who works for them, except for the players (if this bill had it’s way). Maybe the PR person only works there because they are hoping to parlay that into a job with the Twins. Should they stop getting paid just because they are taking a gamble on a greater career in the future? Maybe the cook is hoping this is a steppingstone job to being a fancy chef working across the street at Heartland. Should they no longer get paid because they are taking a gamble?

          • Jon

            They should get paid whatever they agreed to. Who am I, or you, to tell them that they need to price themselves out of the market? If they want to take a gamble, I say, let them do it.

          • Erik Petersen

            I think this is less ‘they should play for what they agreed to’ and more ‘the govt is favoring this business by not enforcing labor rules the way it does everywhere else.’

          • the government is favoring this business, though, by allowing it to engage in anti-trust.

          • Erik Petersen

            absolutley, it is explicitly favored

          • You don’t price yourself out of the market on the minimum . You price yourself out of the market on the maximum.

            Also, let’s take the name of the bill. How exactly is granting an exemption from existing laws saving the game of baseball?

          • Jon

            You price yourself out of the market on whatever your counter-party’s next best alternative is.

            Completely agree MiLB, along with all other sports/businesses, should be forced to fend for themselves with no government support.

          • // s, should be forced to fend for themselves with no government support.

            You’re advocate a repeal of baseball’s anti-trust exemption?

          • Jon

            100%

          • Erik Petersen

            I agree

          • Rob

            Orwell’s got nothin’ on our feckless legislators and their knack for coming up with laws that do the opposite of what their names suggest.

          • // Maybe the PR person only works there because they are hoping to parlay that into a job with the Twins. Should they stop getting paid just because they are taking a gamble on a greater career in the future?

            This is the underpinning of most arguments surrounding the economics of business; that the business is providing a service to the people it employs. It is not. It employs a public relations person because a PR person creates revenue. The bartenders are employed because liquor has a massive markup and creates revenue. The players create revenue.

            There’s no indication — and certainly none supplied in the bill’s document — that the game is endangered by existing labor laws. The owners simply don’t want to observe them and pocket the benefit of not observing them.

        • Erik Petersen

          I think there’s some wisdom in this comment about the lottery
          nature of the job and working for enjoyment…. But in economic terms the players are not in effect subsidized, and would not be under literal enforcement of the law.

          I can’t think of a persuasive reason to not give these fellas proper minimum wage and timecard protections that maybe double their pay to say, ya know, $2500 a month… If
          anyone can make the argument that these guys shouldn’t have minimum wage and timecard protections, please make it. The
          teams can afford it. The industry has no great argument for an exemption.

          • Jon

            You’ll get no argument from me that the government should step out of the way and eliminate explicit and implicit monopoly protections for MLB, MiLB, NFL, NBA, NCAA, etc., etc.

            However, the arguments in favor of a minimum wage (poverty reduction, standard of living, etc.) don’t apply here (other than monopsony, which we are in agreement should be eliminated) because virtually all of the value is non monetary. Unless there is some novel justification for a minimum wage in MiLB, let them decide for themselves.

          • Erik Petersen

            I hear ya but I think that’s kind of a purist’s world you argue for and not the real world.

            In terms of exploiters and exploitees I do not think we,
            society, should have this carve out for the ball clubs. And that this is a realistic change to make.

          • The question of WHETHER baseball should pay its players a legal wage is one for the court to decide, as it should. Both sides can make whatever argument, providing whatever data they need to make.

            This was little more than an attempt to strip the right to seek redress from players by codifying the stripping of their right to work under U.S. labor laws.

            In how many businesses do people get to decide for themselves whether they’ll comply with establish law?

          • Erik Petersen

            Right right right. I mean, you figure it’s proper to assume that MiLB players have timecard and minimum wage protections now, as a matter of law. But that pro baseball violates that law and we haven’t had a DOL enforcement action or a proper lawsuit to make them stop.

            So we got the Broshuis lawsuit to make them stop, and the
            bill is an attempt to subvert whats going to be the obvious verdict there (the anti-trust exemption isn’t going to provide justification for MiLB violating labor laws).

        • KTFoley

          This makes no sense.

      • Jeff

        Is $31k/year really all that much money for the MN legislature?

        Maybe these baseball players should get into politics…2x 5 month jobs.

  • Jeff

    Here’s a novel idea, don’t take the job if you don’t like the pay…I’d be willing to bet that some parents PAY “between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season” for their kids. Not every job is a “job”…what about teachers who accept a coaching position getting paid an extra $2,000-$3,000 for daily practices, games, planning, events, etc. over a 3-4 month season??? They can’t be paid minimum wage for those positions.

    • I don’t understand what you’re saying.

      There’s only one way to get to the major leagues — through the minor league system. Anti-trust is legal in baseball which means that the worker is in a system that — no pun intended — is gamed. If this is their profession, they have no choice nor alternative other than have it not be their profession.

      That not true of many other professions I can think of where if you don’t like the conditions, you can go work somewhere else. You can go be a baseball player somewhere else when the goal of economic survivability is the majors.

      But here’s the thing about your economic argument. What you’re describing, basically, is a system that’s employed in places like India, or Bangladesh, or any third world country. At the same time, people who want America to be great again warn against America becoming a third-world nation. It all seems perfectly illogical.

      In a country that is days away from patting itself on the back for providing equal treatment under the law, what is a compelling reason why labor laws should not apply equally?

      • Jeff

        Actually your points remind me of the teaching profession, should workers have the option to choose to take a public sector teaching job without joining the union AND not paying dues? Or should they be forced (since there are no other options for public school teaching positions) to pay dues for something they disagree with, against their will…just to have a job in that field?

        I think we could extend this conversation to colleges…which act as a minor league for the NFL…do you think students should be paid for their labor?

        The anti-trust rule for the MLB is outdated, I would have no problem with forming up new leagues and paying players more…

    • jon

      Don’t take a job that has terms you don’t want?

      THAT IS A NOVEL IDEA!

      You should go post that in this thread:
      http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2016/06/waiter-wont-illegally-share-tips-bar-fires-him/

      • Jeff

        I’m the first comment in the comment section, clearly I did post in that thread.

  • Erik Petersen

    Notwithstanding the pervasive strain here that is ‘they should be satisfied with whatever they get for playing a game….’

    The bill/proposal was to exempt minor league players from minimum wage / time card protections that cover all other workers. And the claim is, this is necessary to protect the viability of minor league baseball as a business.

    MiLB doesn’t need that exemption, this bill is bullshit and lies that can’t be defended. That’s the thing.

    • Bingo.

    • Jon

      It’s difficult to square support for government enforced wage floors with antipathy for a government enforced monopsony.

    • Rob

      I totally agree. Any business that can’t bring itself to pay a decent wage doesn’t deserve to be in business.

  • Jeff

    Anyone who has a problem with minor league baseball players getting paid less than minimum wage should stop for a moment and think about all the college athletes who perform the SAME EXACT labor and get paid nothing. I think it’s disingenuous to be upset by one set of athletes but not be upset about the other…especially considering how those “student athletes” are being put on TV and there are major TV contract deals involved.

    • Joe

      I think college athletes at the big schools in programs making money should get paid. It does become difficult to decide where to cut that off though. Women’s basketball makes money at some schools. Should all women’s basketball players get paid? Only those at the schools where it makes money (which would further stratify a sport not known for parity)? I dunno.

      • asiljoy

        Baseline should be if the school sells merch based off a player’s likeness, regardless of gender or sport, that player should get a cut.

    • They get a free university education (if they choose to go to class). What’s the value of that these days? Bet it’s more than what the Saints are paying their players.

      • Jeff

        Depending on what you get your degree in or if you even get a degree…the Saints players might be getting a better deal.

        • Maybe. Maybe not. That’s something I would think would have to be part of the exchange of documents when it goes to court.

  • I’ve always felt like forcing your prospects to eat PB&J every day and sleep on air mattresses every night isn’t the best way to max out their development. Wouldn’t feeding them right and making sure they sleep right yield better results on the field? Paying your players a living wage is the new market inefficiency!