Wage, hour and overtime lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report on the recent lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB) over long-standing wage violations. The suit now includes former players from 17 different minor league teams, and specifically cites violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
The former players are claiming that they and their peers are powerless against the reign of the MLB organization, and that they are required to put in obscene hours of work for abysmal pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted in 1938, and states that employees may not be paid less than the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.
Among its provisions, the FLSA also requires all employees to be paid overtime (time-and-a-half) for any work performed beyond 40 hours in a week. Legal and sports analysts confirm that baseball franchises are not exempt from the FLSA, so it is very unlikely that the MLB will be able to have the suit dismissed right away.
This case, Senne v. MLB, is interesting for many reasons: most relevantly because college football players at Northwestern University recently won the right to unionize. Athletes from different disciplines are starting to voice their grievances against the sports culture that is inextricable from American life. NFL players want recognition of and protection from repeated, dangerous head injuries; college players are fed up with a corrupt payment system; and baseball players wish to be paid for their immense labor.
The Northwestern case may not be the best parallel, but it is certainly interesting to consider. In that decision, a director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players on scholarship were employees of the university, and should have the right to unionize to leverage for larger scholarships, better healthcare coverage, and other benefits. This was based on the stipulations of the National Labor Relations Act, and Northwestern plans to appeal the ruling.
The exploitation of athletes is nothing new - there are countless movies and stories about the hardships they endure for the love of the game. "It's supposed to be hard," Tom Hanks' character exclaims in A League of Their Own, "if it were easy, everyone would do it."
At present, the base salary for a minor league baseball player is $1,100 per month - less than a full-time fast food worker. There is no minor league union, like there is now for Northwester players, so negotiating a pay raise, one would imagine, is quite audacious. Minor leaguers throughout the country live in the smallest, most crowded apartments, must shop at Walmart, and eat pizza and ramen for fuel. They sleep on air mattresses and are expected to put in long days as professional athletes.
Long days often turn into long nights; for an evening game, players typically show up at noon to practice, the game starts at seven, and is finished around ten or eleven at night. The schedule is the same throughout the season, six days per week. They are not paid overtime, are able to take very few days off, and if they complain, are fired without severance. Only a few will ever make the majors.
In any other conventional industry, this would be illegal, which is exactly the point minor leaguers are trying to make now. They are undoubtedly spurred by the massive increase in major league baseball players' salaries: since 1976, big league salaries have risen by over 2,000%, while minor league salaries increased only 75%, failing even to keep up with inflation.