On June 27, 2016, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) introduced H.R. 5580, where it was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, stylized as the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” The bill was intended to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to exempt minor league baseball players from the minimum wage. While Congresswoman Bustos H.R. 5580 quickly withdrew her support after public outcry, the bill is still in committee and serves as an important reminder of how little minor league baseball players are paid and the expansive legal protections afforded to the baseball industry.
As an initial matter, the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. While Major League Baseball (“MLB”) profits are booming, currently over $9.5 billion annually, minor league players typically only earn between $1,150 and $2,700 per month, and only during the season. With players often clocking fifty-to-seventy hour weeks, and no overtime pay, a rookie minor league player can earn as little as $4.10 per hour, and a multi-year veteran approximately $13.50 per hour. In contrast, the minimum salary for a major league player is $500,000 per year.
Some minor league players are attempting to strike back at the industry. In Senne, et al. v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al., 3:14-cv-00608, filed in early 2014, several former baseball players are seeking certification for a nation-wide class-action lawsuit alleging that the minor league baseball system violates the FLSA by denying players a minimum wage and overtime. The case is currently pending before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. MLB claims minor league players are not bound by the FLSA due to an exemption for seasonal and recreational employers. The previously-proposed H.R. 5580 would specifically clarify and exempt the minor league system from any minimum wage concerns.
Those involved in the baseball industry, as well as those who just love the game of baseball, should be mindful of the status of this bill. Should H.R. 5580, or a similar bill, be signed into law, there will be far-reaching legal consequences. These types of bills tell us what is on the minds of legislators and signals yet another effort to expand the FLSA and to weaken its exceptions. Hill Wallack employment law attorneys are available to help navigate issues such as these and how they may affect clients in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.