Minor-league baseball players may be exempt from federal labor laws soon

Big League Stew

Minor-league players looking for a pay raise may have no way to do so pretty soon. Congress is considering a bill that would exempt all Minor League Baseball players from federal labor laws, according to the Washington Post.

Currently, minor-leaguers are considered seasonal employees or apprentices, which allows teams to pay them below the minimum wage. Some players have started to challenge that, prompting Major League Baseball to lobby to keep that system in place, according to the Post.

The exemption would represent the culmination of more than two years of lobbying by Major League Baseball, which has sought to preempt a spate of lawsuits that have been filed by minor leaguers alleging they have been illegally underpaid.

The league has long claimed exemptions for seasonal employees and apprenticeships, allowing its clubs to pay players as little as $1,100 a month, well under the pay that would be dictated under federal minimum wage and overtime standards. But with those exemptions under legal challenge, Major League Baseball has paid lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars to write a specific exemption into the law.

The president of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Connor, responded to the Post by arguing the cost of paying players would be “incalculable” based on their job demands. A representative defending players challenging the current system compared the situation to McDonald’s or Walmart, saying “If Walmart or McDonald’s can find a way to comply with those laws, then Major League Baseball can find a way to comply with them, too.”

In 2015, a group of minor-league players filed a lawsuit claiming their wages were being limited. That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge. It went to the Supreme Court and was again dismissed in December.

Minor-league players are not part of the Major League Baseball Players Association. While successful minor-leaguers will become union members eventually, the MLBPA focuses primarily on major-league players. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told CBSSports’ Jonah Keri as much in 2017.

Because of that, minor-league players have had to take it upon themselves to enact change. If this bill goes through, they may no longer have that opportunity.

Minor-league baseball players want higher pay. (AP Photo)
Minor-league baseball players want higher pay. (AP Photo)

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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