Judge: Minor leaguers work year-round, MLB violated wage law
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge ruled that minor leaguers are year-round employees who work during training time and found Major League Baseball violated Arizona state minimum wage law and is liable for triple damages.
Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero in San Francisco also ruled MLB did not comply with California wage statement requirements, awarding $1,882,650 in penalties.
Spero unsealed a 181-page ruling Tuesday night in a lawsuit filed eight years ago. He ruled minor leaguers should be paid for travel time to road games in the California League and to practice in Arizona and Florida.
“These are not students who have enrolled in a vocational school with the understanding that they would perform services, without compensation, as part of the practical training necessary to compete the training and obtain a license,” Spero wrote.
In rejecting many of MLB’s motions for summary judgments, Spero allowed those claims to proceed to a trial scheduled for June 1.
He ruled for the players under Arizona state law, leaving only the amount of damages to be determined.
“For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages,” the steering committee of Advocates for Minor Leaguers said in a statement. “Working as a professional baseball player requires far more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of year-round training, practice, and preparation, for which we have never been properly compensated.
“We are thrilled with today’s ruling, which is an enormous step toward holding MLB accountable for its longstanding mistreatment of minor league players.”
MLB had no immediate comment.
The suit was filed by first baseman/outfielder Aaron Senne, a 10th-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2009 who retired in 2013, and two other retired players who had been lower-round selections: Kansas City infielder Michael Liberto and San Francisco pitcher Oliver Odle.
They claimed violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state minimum wage and overtime requirements for a workweek they estimated at 50-to-60 hours.
Congress enacted the Save America’s Pastime Act in March 2018, which amended the FLSA to exempt baseball players from the statute’s minimum wage and overtime requirements.
Spero has presided over the case for years.
“The court has previously held that plaintiffs are employees rather than trainees,” he wrote.
The case was sent back to the District Court by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 after lawyers for the players and MLB spent years arguing whether it should receive class-action status.
Spero ruled that MLB is a joint employer with teams of minor league players; that those players perform “work” during spring training; that travel time on team buses to away games is compensable under FLSA, Florida and Arizona law and that travel time by California League players to away games is compensable under California law.
Spero also said federal law does not permit a defense under Florida state law claims. He dismissed claims after the new law in March 2018 and also dismissed claims against former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who was listed as a defendant in the original suit along with the 30 big league clubs.
Ross D. Franklin
MLB says players must report to camps by Sunday, but some will be there for optional workouts as soon as Friday — exactly four weeks before the regular season begins.
Unlike a normal spring training, there won't be a split set of arrivals for pitchers and catchers versus other position players. Expect the entire roster to report at once, or at least as quickly as players can arrive.
Ted S. Warren
Very, for the most part. Players have been gathering at fields and facilities across the country to stay sharp when camps didn't open as planned in mid-February. Aaron Judge and several Yankees teammates have been preparing at the University of South Florida, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has invited alumni and their pals to use the school's facilities in Nashville, Tennessee, and the union opened a facility in Mesa, Arizona, for players.
There may still be a few hurdles. It's not uncommon for international players to be delayed by visa issues. It's usually a small complication during the standard six-week spring, but with camps shortened and coronavirus concerns still affecting international travel, some players might end up with a troublingly short runway. It's unclear if the league and union have established a new set of COVID-19 protocols, but some players could be slowed if there is intake testing.
And of course, there's concern about the health of the players, especially pitchers. This is the second time in three seasons that players will be thrown out of their normal spring routine. The rate of injuries spiked last year, when the schedule was restored to 162 games after only 60 games were played in 2020 because of COVID-19.
There will also be sorely needed communication between players and training staffs in the early days. Teams have not been allowed to speak with major league players during the lockout, an especially tricky set of circumstances for those rehabbing after injuries.
This is actually an easier one. Since the lockout only applied to players on major league contracts, minor league players have already reported. Many coaches, trainers and other members of major league staffs have been working with those minor leaguers while they await the end of the lockout. Most of the equipment necessary to run the camps is also in place.
Commissioner Rob Manfred had previously canceled spring exhibitions until March 18, but some games could be added to the schedule for next week. Even if most major league players aren't ready for game action as soon as camps formally open, teams could fill rosters will minor league players in the early stages of the exhibition schedule. Ballparks in Florida and Arizona — and the businesses nearby — would be happy to have some games restored.
Correa, Freddie Freeman and Kris Bryant headline the list of free agents still searching for a team after rosters were frozen by MLB during the lockout.
Teams spent a record $1.4 billion on free agents in the hours before the lockout began — remember Corey Seager and Marcus Semien going to the Texas Rangers? Or Javier Báez to the Detroit Tigers?
Still, several impactful stars remain without a team, and a rapid-fire game of musical chairs is expected. Some names to watch: Clayton Kershaw may be choosing between a reunion with the Los Angeles Dodgers or a chance to stay close to his Dallas home with the Rangers, while Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki was posted in November but had his 30-day signing window interrupted by the lockout. Suzuki will have 20 days to strike a deal when the freeze lifts.
Ross D. Franklin
Chicago White Sox minor league players put baseballs back in the basket during batting practice at a minor league spring training workout Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Phoenix. Major League Baseball’s acrimonious lockout ended Thursday when a divided players’ association voted to accept management’s offer to salvage a 162-game season that will start April 7. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)