A lawsuit filed in federal court seeks to overhaul minor league baseball’s pay scale with three former players arguing low pay, mandatory overtime and lack of collective bargaining rights all violate state and federal wage laws. Minor League Baseball is not a party to the lawsuit. Instead, suit was filed in federal California Northern District Court by former players Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle against Major League Baseball, the Office of the Commissioner, Commissioner Bud Selig and their former teams the Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants.
The lawsuit argues that most minor league players are paid $7,500 or less for a season of work despite working more than 50 hours a week, i.e. beneath minimum wage. (While the minimum salary in Major League Baseball is $500,000, it is not uncommon that many minor league players earn less than the federal poverty level, which is $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four). According to the complaint, while big league salaries have risen by more than 2,000 percent since 1976, minor league salaries have increased by just 75 percent during that time.
Those low wages, combined with a lack of freedom to move within the league, allegedly violate state and federal wage laws according to the complaint. The lawsuit seeks to create a class action of current and former minor league baseball players. The lawsuit squarely targets the Uniform Player Contract, which sets forth the relationship between a team and the individual player. The players allege that UPC binds the player to the team for approximately seven years and grants the parent major league team the exclusive rights to the player during that period. During that time period, the major league team may assign the minor leaguer’s rights to any other team and even may terminate the agreement at any time for almost any reason. The player cannot leave voluntarily to play for another baseball team even if it is outside the country. The complaint states that even retirement from baseball during the seven-year term requires the Commissioner’s approval. The players are seeking to overhaul the alleged one-sidedness of the UPC.
The lawsuit also alleges that roughly 6,000 minor league players are funneled into a “farm system” of five levels: Rookie and Short Season A, Class-A, Advanced Class-A, Double-A and Triple-A. While the UPC states that salary negotiations are allowed by a minor leaguer, the lawsuit asserts that in actuality, negotiations are not allowed. The plaintiffs seek class certification and damages for Fair Labor Standards Act violations, minimum wage and overtime violations, state wage violations, payday requirements, and unfair business practices. They also seek an injunction preventing the defendants from implementing their unlawful practices and requiring them to pay all wages pursuant to state and federal law.