The class action against Minor League Baseball

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People might think that athletes are always rich, once only most famous, or top tier level athletes are daily covered on the news and sports media. The article you are about to read will show you that not everything you see is gold, and that athletes can make less money than a lot of non-athletes.

The Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is a baseball league in the United States of America (USA) that competes at lower levels than the biggest and richest baseball league in the world, the Major League Baseball (MLB).

Every MLB Franchises have their own network of affiliates in the MiLB, which are usually known as “farm leagues”. The MiLB has a classification system that divides leagues into one to six classes: Triple A (AAA), Double-A (AA), Class A-Advanced (High A or A+), Class A (Low A), Class A Short Season, and Rookie.

As above-mentioned, the MLB teams have their own affiliates, and the reason is noticeably clear: development of the players to achieve a higher level and compete in a tougher competition in MLB. This is reason only three players (Xavier Nady in 2000; Mike Leake in 2010; and Garrett Crochet in 2020)[1] have skipped the minor leagues to go directly to the MLB since 2000.

The MLB rules are responsible for governing the employment and compensation terms for both the MLB and MiLB players. The rule 56 of the MLB[2] is the responsible for dictating the terms of the “Standard Player Development Contracts” (UPC).

The attachment 3 of the MLB rules “obligates Player[s] to perform professional services on a calendar year basis, regardless of the fact that salary payments are to be made only during the actual championship playing season.”, which clearly means players will only be paid during the regular season (April to September), although have spring training and other duties to accomplish out of the regular season.

For these reasons, the players assigned to the affiliates in MiLB are not amateur, but professionals, and as professionals, they should be paid above the minimum wage (US$7,25 per hour), which sometimes does not happen, and potentially is the case of the 45 plaintiffs of the class action lawsuit against the MiLB.

In 2014, a retired MiLB player, Aaron Senne, filled a lawsuit against the MiLB, claiming he was paid US$3,000 for 2010, 2011 and 2013 seasons, and about US$7,000 for the 2012 season[3], which was clearly under the minimum wage per hour.

In fact, it was already known many MiLB players were paid under the minimum wage, and the also that MiLB has been challenged on its wage system before[4], through different types of laws, like the Sherman Act, but fell under the sports league’s antitrust exemption[5].

44 other players decided to follow Senne’s path and claim their overdue payables against MiLB, of what has become a Class Action Lawsuit (when a group of plaintiffs file against the same defendant) against the Minor League, which means if they win the MLB might have to pay the overdue payables to every player from 2014 to 2019, a huge amount of money.

On its best interests, MLB appealed the decision of the players to move with a class action lawsuit, but in august 2019, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the players[6]. Later, on June 2020, the said decision was appealed by the MLB to the Supreme Court[7], which recently, on October 5th 2020, decided to maintain the decision of allowing the players to move forward with the class action[8].

The class action lawsuit can shake the system completely. It’s likely many teams would not be able to exist if they have to pay fairly to the developing players, which would lead to a smaller league, with less players, what would mean the MLB teams would have to reduce their rosters, having to be more careful with their moves.

It will be interesting to see if the players can win against a huge league. But as mentioned before, the win can actually mean less players being able to chase their dream of playing professional baseball in the U.S.

By :Pedro Juncal

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_baseball_players_who_went_directly_to_Major_League_Baseball

[2] https://registration.mlbpa.org/pdf/MajorLeagueRules.pdf

[3] https://fansided.com/2017/10/25/senne-v-royals-lawsuit-could-change-mlb/

[4] IDEM

[5] https://ballparkdigest.com/2018/06/12/supreme-court-yet-again-declines-to-strike-down-mlb-antitrust-exemption/#:~:text=The%20antitrust%20exemption%2C%20first%20granted,subject%20to%20federal%20commerce%20laws.

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2019/08/16/court-ruling-allows-minor-league-baseball-players-to-seek-wage-increase-as-class-action/#3864c117fed3

[7] https://www.thescore.com/mlb/news/1976586

[8] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/minors/2020/10/05/supreme-court-mlb-minor-league-salary-wages/3625838001/

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