Less than one week from Opening Day of the major league baseball season, Congress has passed legislation that will exempt minor league baseball players from the wage protections mandated under the federal Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”). This means that Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball will not be required to pay their minor league baseball players a minimum wage, any overtime pay, or any compensation for spring training or during the off season.
The legislation will also likely put an end to a pending lawsuit brought by minor league players in which they are attempting to gain the legal wage protections available under the FLSA. The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by lead plaintiff and former minor leaguer, Aaron Senne, who argued on behalf of himself and other minor league baseball players, that Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball were violating the FLSA by not paying the players minimum wage and overtime pay. Most minor league players make less than $7,500 a season and work between 50-60 hours a week during the season without factoring in travel time. Minor league games take place six to seven days a week and require extensive travel for the players.
The FLSA requires that employers pay covered employees no less than $7.25 for every hour worked. Most states have similar minimum wage laws in place, such as New Jersey that has enacted the New Jersey Wage and Hour Act. The New Jersey Wage and Hour Act currently mandates employers pay eligible employees a minimum wage of $8.60 per hour. The FLSA also requires that employers pay covered employees overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. The New Jersey Wage and Hour law contains the same provision requiring employees provide eligible employees with overtime compensation.
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have long argued that minor league players are not covered by the FSLA because they are seasonal employees and that forcing major league baseball to pay their minor leaguers the minimum wage and overtime would cause the minor leagues and minor league teams to shut down due to the increased labor costs. The players, on the other hand, contend that they should be covered by federal and state wage laws and deserve to be paid the minimum wage and overtime for hours worked over a 40-hour workweek that they are owed back wages and overtime and that they should be provided this pay going forward. The players also point out that the MLB receives revenue exceeding 10 billion dollars per year and can easily afford to pay their employees the minimum wage and overtime for hours worked over a 40-hour workweek.
The “Save American’s Pastime Act” appears to have ended the dispute by specifically exempting minor league players from the dictates of the FLSA. The provision, which was quietly slipped into the massive 1.3 trillion dollar spending bill, preempts the issue in the lawsuit by exempting “any employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not spring training or the offseason) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage [and] for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.” This provision of the bill can be found on page 1,967 of the bill that is more than 1,900 pages in total.
As a result of this legislation, it appears the minor league baseball players lawsuit is all but over. In exchange for the hope to make the multiples of millions that major league baseball players are paid, minor league players in the meantime will be forced to continue work without being compensated minimum wage and overtime, while Congress can take credit that they Saved America’s Pastime for all of us.