Major League Wage Theft: How Baseball Owners and Congress Exploit Minor League Players

Joel Mendelson

Joel Mendelson Communications Specialist, Jobs with Justice

Baseball season begins this week and fans across the country will see their favorite players and all-stars play in places like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field. The season commencement will also be cause for celebration for the former farm team players who advanced to the majors for the first time. By joining a major league team, an athlete finally earns a fair return on his work and performance.

As for the infielders, pitchers, shortstops and the rest of the players in the minors?  As a result of a recent act by federal lawmakers, they’re starting out the season with a losing streak. Thousands of professional athletes who play for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Montgomery Biscuits, Kannapolis Intimidators, and the nearly 250 teams in Minor League Baseball could soon make less than the minimum wage.

On Friday, Congress eliminated Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections for minor league players through a provision buried in the 2200-plus page omnibus spending bill. The “Save America’s Pastime Actreclassifies baseball players as “seasonal employees,” thus allowing wealthy owners to pay them for only regular season games. Now owners can technically avoid paying players for all their hours spent in spring training, off-season workouts, team meetings, appearances, and more.

Even though they are employed by the same Major League team owners, for every superstar like Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper earning millions, there’s a career minor leaguer just trying to put food on the table for his family. Working and living conditions for minor leaguers are anything but glamorous. Those playing in the lower levels often struggle to make ends meet, earning as little as $1100 a month for only three months a year. That’s less than most people working at fast-food restaurants earn. Players often take second jobs during the offseason, while still trying to train, practice, and prepare for a shot at the big leagues.

Despite turning significant profits, every season the league refuses to pay minor leaguers sustainable wages. At the same time, billionaire owners ask for and typically receive huge subsidies of public taxpayer dollars to fund new stadiums.

In recent years, players filed multiple lawsuits against Major League Baseball, accusing the league of intentionally underpaying and exploiting minor league players. In 2017, a federal appeals court ruled against four players, who alleged Major League Baseball colluded to pay players low wages. They believed Major League Baseball violated antitrust laws. However, the Save America’s Pastime Act isn’t the first time Congress put MLB owners before players. In the late-1990s, Congress passed a bill exempting Major League Baseball from antitrust laws. The lawsuit alleging MLB withheld wages and exploited players violated the FLSA, remains active, but the new law could hamper players’ efforts to hold MLB and owners accountable.

Given the league’s extreme opposition to paying minor league players a sustainable wage, why do major league baseball players earn considerable sums and benefit from endorsement deals? For decades, owners controlled everything about players. In the late-1960s, players had enough. St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood helped lead the first organizing effort and together with labor veteran Marvin Miller, players joined together and formed the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. Over the course of the next five decades, players fought to win their freedom to sign with different teams, negotiate strong contracts, and ensure owners could no longer exploit them or future players in the majors.

We call foul on the Major League Baseball, and billionaire team owners using their friends in Congress to rig the rules of the game. Once again, underhanded lawmakers rigged the rules to keep billionaires happy. In doing so, they stripped minor league players of their freedom to earn a decent wage training for and playing the game they love. As we all head to the ballpark this season, let’s remember that baseball players—like all working people—deserve a fair shake and the power in numbers to take care of their basic needs in life.

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Reposted from JWJ

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

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No Such Thing as Good Greed

No Such Thing as Good Greed