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TURNING EMPLOYER WRONGS INTO EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

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Major (and Minor) League Baseball Wage Violations (Part 3)

Major League baseball teams are not the only ones accused of wage violations. A complaint has been filed in California by members of minor league teams.

Three minor league players filed suit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, stating that minor league players are underpaid for their labor and exploited by the contractual agreements minor leaguers are required to sign with their teams. They now have a representative member from each of the 28 minor league teams.

The suit alleges that many minor league players are paid less than $7,500 per year, a number that is well below the national poverty level of $11,670, and they are required to work unpaid hours in violation of state and federal wage laws. They also claim that most contracts prohibit them from attempting to seek employment from other teams where they might get paid more.

The suit charges the MLB, its teams and Commissioner Bud Selig with breaking labor laws by paying such low wages, ignoring overtime and ‘actively and openly’ colluding on working conditions.

The players are seeking class certification in order to cover the approximately 6000+ minor league players across the United States.

Typically, when a college player is drafted into the minor leagues, he is paid a signing bonus. First or second round picks can sometimes collect bonuses in excess of $100,000, which goes a long way toward helping pay the bills while waiting for a spot in the majors.

Most players receive far less than that, with some only gathering around $2500. It is not uncommon for three of four players to have to share a hotel room or apartment, sleeping on air mattresses, trying to make their $25 a day ‘on the road’ food stipend last.

Since the players in the minor league have no union (unlike minor league hockey players and umpires) they have no real bargaining power and are left at the mercy of team owners. Most players have to turn to parents or family members to help support them while they try to get by, and those with wives or families have little to no hope of keeping them fed on the paltry wages the players do get.

And so three of the minor league players who spoke up first, Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle have taken to the courts to seek redress. The case, on its face, seems simple enough. Players are employees, and they aren’t getting paid what they should by greedy bosses and owners.

Unfortunately, nothing in the legal world is simple. In the next article we will wrap up this series and discuss the legal issues involved.