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Three former minor leaguers file a class action suit against Major League Baseball over unfair labor practices

Feb 11, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT

lawsuit gavel

From the “I’m surprised it has taken this long” department, three former minor leaguers — Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle — have filed a putative class action lawsuit against Major League Baseball alleging that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited and that the Uniform Player Contract unfairly takes advantage of them.

The upshot: excluding bonuses which only a few minor leaguers get in any real size, Major League Baseball often pays minor leaguers less than $7,500 for an entire season and requires mandatory overtime in violation of state and federal wage laws. The Uniform Player Contract they are required to sign binds them to a team and keeps them from shopping their services elsewhere. Though they are only paid during the season, they are required to perform duties such as training, meetings and the like all year long and their duties and obligations to the club extend on a year-round basis too.

I’m not labor law expert but it strikes me that there are things to talk about here. And that they system in place is less explicitly blessed by the legally system than it is merely accepted and, as far as I know, never challenged on grounds of unfair labor practices.  More general things like the draft, however, are most likely subject to the antitrust exemption.

One thing I’d be very curious to see: the minor leaguers sue the MLBPA too. For, even though they are not allowed to be members of the MLBPA nor have a seat at the bargaining table when player rights are defined, they are subject to them. Indeed, major leaguers have routinely negotiated away the rights of amateurs and minor leaguers in exchange for things that benefit them. It’s a messed up system, frankly.

It’ll be a long time before this goes anyplace. The first thing that has to happen is the certification of a class. That doesn’t always happen. And if it doesn’t, it would be let as a lawsuit by only three plaintiffs as opposed to minor leaguer in general.

Worth watching, though.

  1. sdelmonte - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    Oh, if only the minor leaguers could unionize. But I can’t see that happening. Too many obstacles to unionization these days, and probably too many minor leaguers figuring they’ll be major leaguers before too long.

    • hockeyflow33 - Feb 11, 2014 at 5:09 PM

      There is a player’s union for minor league hockey players so it is definitely doable.

      • happytwinsfan - Feb 11, 2014 at 8:33 PM

        doable but not likely. the big leaguers need to realize that but for maybe a 5 to 10% difference in athletic ability there go i, and use their leverage to protect them.

    • billybawl - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:09 PM

      I think the biggest problem with a minor league union would be conducting the organizing campaign. There have to be what, ~3500 minor league players on MLB-affiliated teams at any time? Add in the constant roster turnover and movement, the travel, language barriers and the fact that most are young kids who don’t want to upset the apple cart. A standout player won’t be sold easily on the benefits of a union; a mediocre player who tried to organize teammates would get cut under pretense of performance issues. Even if an established union were persuaded they could organize the players, the dues would make it a losing proposition and tough sell to current members. Still, it would be interesting to see.

  2. happytwinsfan - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Older men with wallets exploiting younger men with dreams. i hope they get their day in court (within this decade hopefully) and do well.

  3. xdj511 - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:37 PM

    This isn’t going to turn into another anti-trust exemption issue, is it? It’s one of the reasons baseball can basically treat minor leaguers any way they want.

    I’ll say this when it comes to “mandatory overtime” though. One of the jobs I worked along the way hired virtually everyone as a “salaried” employee and as a result they were able to get around paying overtime if we had to stay late for whatever reason. I’m sure baseball players are treated similarly. Although there is a joke in there somewhere that with the length of games baseball players must be paid by the hour!

    • jwbiii - Feb 11, 2014 at 5:15 PM

      It’s a minimum wage issue, actually. There’s a loophole which allows seasonal entertainment employers, those who receive less than 30% of their revenue in a five month consecutive period, to ignore minimum wage laws. Minor league organizations don’t do much business between October and March, so AAA scale for non-MLB roster players ($10,750) is below the poverty level. Lower level players are, of course, worse off.

      • billybawl - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        Is that the exemption they are hanging their hat on? Or is it the “creative professional” exemption? Never thought about it before.

    • righthandofjustice - Feb 11, 2014 at 7:09 PM

      Judge Ronald Whyte has opened up the flood gate for anybody to challenge MLB’s antitrust exemption status in his ruling and recommendation of San Jose vs MLB.

  4. spudchukar - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    This is long overdue. The $7500 figure is low, at least it was just a couple of years ago where it was reported that some players still only get $650-$750 a month, in the lower levels, with little per diem increases, which was somewhere around $15 per day.

    • spudchukar - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:42 PM

      Ooops, should read the $7500 is high.

    • jwbiii - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:04 AM

      Yeah, spudchukar, It seems high to me, too. Scale for each level:
      AAA: $10,7500
      AA: $7,500
      A, A+: $6,500 (full season)
      A-: $2,750 (short season)
      Rk: $2,475
      The Cardinals, for example, have one team each at AAA, AA, A+, A, A-, and three rookie league teams. This is typical. There is no way the average Cardinal minor leaguer is at AA. A few veteran NRI players at $79,900 (last season) must throw the average off significantly. Perhaps they are also counting minor leaguers on the 40 man roster. Some of these can be making as much as $288,000. Draftees or international free agents who signed major league deals can be making significantly more than that, which could really skew the average.

  5. happytwinsfan - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    $7500 will buy a little under 26 weeks, at 40 hours per week at 7.25/ hour (federal minimum wage)

  6. hep3 - Feb 11, 2014 at 4:59 PM

    I hope the minor leaguers get some relief. The major league teams could afford to pay more for their minor leaguers. When the owners locked out the MLB players in 1994, the first employees to get laid off by the owners were those high paid, $25,000 per year scouts. Yeah, those scouts were really a drain on the profits.

    But then again as Larry (Robert Wuhl) said in Bull Durham, “I spend a winter working at Sears selling Lady Kenmores; Nasty!”

  7. tn16 - Feb 11, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    I personally know a few guys who tried there hand at minor league ball and after they have hung up the cleats they have a hard time finding a job outside of baseball. Many people are drafted right after High School, they have no college education to fall back on.

    • prospero63 - Feb 11, 2014 at 6:03 PM

      Most minor league contracts include provisions for paying for school for players that don’t make it to the big leagues. So while they may not have a college education to fall back on (which is their own damned fault for deciding to play baseball instead of go to school) it’s not like there isn’t an option for them to get that education…

    • genericcommenter - Feb 11, 2014 at 8:11 PM

      I have a relative who was drafted after his Jr. year of college and signed because he wouldn’t have had as much leverage or any guarantee to be drafted the next year. After 1 year in Rookie Ball, he was released and decided to just go back to school and have the team pay for him to finish. He had connections and offers, and could have been signed as a pitcher (was drafted as 1B/DH due to slugging stats in college but also pitched 3 years in Div I) somewhere else. He’s fine trying another career- his friends and family wanted him to try to hang on more than he did.

      So, have something to fall back on. And take advantage of the free college tuition if baseball doesn’t work out.

    • billybawl - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:13 PM

      I wonder how many guys who sign out of HS would have gone on to get a valuable college degree — scholarship or not — if they hadn’t been drafted? What you say is definitely true, but there are a lot of HS grads without college degrees.

  8. righthandofjustice - Feb 11, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    One of the key points is the minor leaguers are forced to do mandatory overtime work without pay. That’s also what non-player employees and interns of MLB teams took to the DoL and resulted in a settlement and a warning to the Giants and an ongoing thorough unfair labor practice to MLB and all the 30 teams.

    Another lawsuit has been filed by volunteers who claimed to be exploited and deceived by MLB who used them in for-profit activities. They also asked for an injunction to stop MLB for recruiting volunteers.

  9. bigharold - Feb 11, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    “One thing I’d be very curious to see: the minor leaguers sue the MLBPA too. For, even though they are not allowed to be members of the MLBPA nor have a seat at the bargaining table when player rights are defined, they are subject to them.”

    I can’t see how they can avoid suing the players union. I can’t see how the players union isn’t culpable as they are negotiating away minor league players.

    • righthandofjustice - Feb 11, 2014 at 6:52 PM

      Are they explicitly not allowed to be members of the MLBPA and have bargaining rights, or just not selected by MLBPA to be representatives on the bargaining table? That’s two different things.

      If they are simply not allowed to, they are close to the status of slaves but if they are not selected to be representatives MLBPA may just say they are not qualified due to whatever reason they can make up.

      • bigharold - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:04 PM

        I’m reading it as the minor league players have absolutely no say so and MLB players have the right to determine the parameters of their working relationship. I would go as far as calling them slaves, it’s more like a old world guild system bordering on indentured servitude. Regardless, it doesn’t seem fair, ethical or perhaps even lawful.

      • f.verd - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:39 AM

        I think I hear Curt Flood’s footsteps…

      • dluxxx - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        My guess is that they are “eligible” to be in the MLBPA, but 90% of them can’t afford the union dues due to their low pay and lack of signing bonus. But yeah, I’m guessing that they are not able to come to the table even if they did pay dues.

  10. prospero63 - Feb 11, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    Man, if only these guys had other employment options as opposed to being forced into the oppressive workforce that is the toil of “baseball player”. I mean, that’s gotta be worse than even “baseball blogger”. The huge manatee of it all…

  11. Carl Hancock - Feb 11, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    It is surprising that because the MLBPA is not there for minor leaguers that they’ve never fought to form the MiLBPA and unionize themselves.

  12. jerrahsucks - Feb 11, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    I hope these guys win. I hope they really put damage to the bud selig legacy. You know the legacy where I cancelled a season and world series, I needed something so I loved the hell out of steroids, Marc McGuire, Sammy Sosa, I went on the field and kissed there asses legacy. Then when pressure came, and the game had rebounded to profitability, then I became the crusader for peds. Oh my god, I hung Arod, I’m a hall of famer. Yep, that freaking Proud to be your Bud, Jerry Reinsdorfs puppet, A tool, always was a broken down used car salesman, and always will be.

  13. cohnjusack - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    …$7,500 is nearly what Ryan Howard makes every *2.5 hours*. Offseason included.

  14. billyboots - Feb 12, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    I know Aaron Senne, he was best friends with my brother in law in high school, and I work with Aaron’s brother now. I really hope this works, I know the Marlins pretty much screwed him over during his time in their farm system. For those saying that many minor leaguers don’t have anything to fall back on, you are absolutely right. At least for Aaron, I know he played it smart, saved his money, and is now back at Missouri working on his masters. Good luck boys, but I don’t think it will fly.

  15. Minoring In Baseball - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    I would really like to see the minor league players get paid better and have more benefits. I think it would be positive in the long run, and more players would stay in baseball and give it a run. Yeah, they’re might be some ‘career’ minor leaguers, but so what? If that’s what they love to do, let them make a living at it, even if they never make the ‘bigs’. Many players get to that ‘point’ in their career, whether they have a family or not, and determine if they can make a living in the minors.

  16. MattBruback - Feb 16, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Here is a book which came out one day after this law suit was filed… a must read by all baseball fans who want to better understand the control MLB has over players during and after their careers.

    A MUST READ!!!

  17. jmkeel15 - Jun 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    I played 4 years of minor league baseball and the most I ever made was $1100 a month….I know everyone says it is chasing a dream but it becomes a full time profession…Most days I would get to the park at 12 PM and wouldn’t leave until 11 PM – 12 AM….Lots of hours for very little pay, that’s not including the bus rides

  18. MattBruback - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:57 AM

    It’s time another article is written about this… wouldn’t doubt if MLB paid off the lawyer and players to make this go away. This is what happened in the book below which is also mentioned in Playing Catch with Destiny.

    When will the fans and players wake up and demand accountability?

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