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Bill Could Exempt Minor Leaguers From Labor Law

Pat-OConner

At the Winter Meetings last December, Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said he expected minor league players, whose salaries have seen little rise in decades and who currently work for as little as $1,100 a month, might receive some form of a pay raise in the next round of collective bargaining.

Now, The Washington Post reports, work appears to have been done behind the scenes to quash one avenue for such change. Lobbyists have asked Congress, in its new spending bill, to consider adding a provision that would keep minor leaguers from earning the same protections other hourly workers are granted under the law.

O'Conner told BA in an exclusive interview at the Winter Meetings that he compared players with workers at fast-food restaurants. Both groups, he said, should view their current employment as a stepping stone rather a career. The unspoken difference, of course, is that the people flipping your burgers are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which grants them minimum wage and overtime if they work more than eight hours in a day.

The same is not true for minor leaguers, who are looked upon by both Minor and Major League Baseball as interns or apprentices who should, therefore, remain exempt from the FLSA, no matter how long the day.

O'Conner, in the same interview, took some issue with how long players are actually working when they are at the ballpark.

"OK, you come in at 2 (o'clock)," he said in the interview. "You don't have to be there till 3, but you come in at 2. From 2 to 3, you play cards. And at 3 you go out for infield or extra hitting or whatever, and then you come back and you take an hour.

"While the other team's hitting, you take an hour and you get a sandwich that (the club) pays for and you eat it. Are you working?"

There are, of course, other workers at ballparks aside from the players and coaches who are protected by the FLSA. That list includes game-day staff like concession workers, ushers, ticket-takers and others who need to stay at the ballpark for the duration of the game. Those people are paid by the minor league team—unlike the players, whose salaries are paid by their major league club—and steps were taken earlier this month to get those workers home earlier.

That's one of the intended consequences of the new set of rules—primarily aimed at improving pace of play—enacted earlier this month. One of the rules, which will put a runner on second base to begin each extra inning, should help reduce the length of games that go past nine innings—during which minor league teams typically lose money—thus reducing the amount teams will have to pay the employees who have to stay until the final out is recorded.

If Congress adds the proposed legislation to the spending bill, which the Post reports is likely, it would seem to all but kill a lawsuit brought by the players against MLB that is currently under appeal in the 9th Circuit court. That lawsuit, Senne vs. MLB, aims to give minor leaguers protection under the FLSA.

The first version of the lawsuit was rejected because of the broad set of minimum wage laws players encounter when traveling from state to state as part of various minor leagues. In response, the players, represented by former minor leaguer Garrett Broshuis, limited the scope of their suit to players whose leagues keep them in one state all season long.

The legislation proposed in Washington would not necessarily keep players from getting a raise. MLB could still vote to increase salaries at each level in their next round of negotiations. It would, however, put a serious dent in the players' efforts to earn protection under minimum wage laws.

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