Minor Leaguers Sue Baseball for Low Pay, in Federal Class Action


SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In a class challenge to the enormous salary difference between Major League and Minor League Baseball, pro ballplayers claim Major League Baseball pays minor leaguers peanuts, often less than $7,500 for an entire season, in violation of state and federal wage laws.
     Lead plaintiff Aaron Senne sued Major League Baseball, the Office of the Commissioner, Commissioner Bud Selig, and three teams - the Kansas City Royals, the Miami Marlins and the San Francisco Giants, in Federal Court.
     Senne played for the Marlins organization from 2010 to 2013. Co-plaintiff Michael Liberto played for the Royals' Minor League team in those years, and the third named plaintiff, Oliver Odle, played for the Giants franchise from 2007 to 2011.
     The players all wish to represent to Minor League Collective class, and also, classes that play in Florida, North Carolina and New York (Senne), Arizona (Liberto), and California (Odle).
     Each Major League team has Minor League teams in graded divisions, though not all clubs field teams in all the lower divisions.
     "The MLB teams acquire minor leaguers in one of two ways: through an amateur draft or through free agency," the 50-page lawsuit states.
     Amateur players from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are required to participate in the 40-round draft; amateur Latin American players and players who are not selected in the draft can be selected through free agency.
     While talented amateur players often get large signing bonuses as incentives, the vast majority of amateurs receive small bonuses, of around $2,500, the class claims.
     Selig implemented a stricter system in 2012 that limits the amount a franchise can spend on signing bonuses.
     Once selected, the complaint states, players must sign a Uniform Player Contract to work in the MLB.
     "Thus, the UPC grants the MLB team the exclusive rights to the minor leaguer for seven championship seasons (about seven years.) During that time period, the MLB team may assign minor leaguer's rights to any other team, and the MLB team may terminate the agreement at any time for almost any reason.
     "But the minor leaguer cannot leave voluntarily to play for another baseball team - even outside of MLB, and even outside the United States. A player doing so 'shall be subject to the discipline of the Commissioner.' Retirement from baseball during the seven-year term even requires the Commissioner's approval. Thus, minor leaguers possess very little (and one-sided) contractual mobility."
     The 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. Their salaries range from $1,100 a month for Rookie and Short Season A to $2,150 a month for Class-AAA, the class claims.
     While the UPC states that salary negotiations are allowed by a minor leaguer, the truth is that negotiations are not allowed.
     "As the 2013 Miami Marlins Minor League Player Guide States, 'This salary structure will be strictly adhered to; therefore, once a salary figure has been established and sent to you, there will be NO negotiations.'
     "The UPC required by MLB, and enforced by Mr. Selig, states that salaries are only to be paid during the championship season, which, for most players, lasts about five months out of the year. Due to funneling that occurs at each level, significantly more minor leaguers perform at the lower levels of the minor leagues than at the upper two levels of the minor leagues (Class-AA and Class-AAA), so plaintiffs believe that most minor leaguers earn less than $7,500 per calendar year. Some earn $3,000 or less.
     "Despite only being compensated during the championship season, MLB's UPC 'obligates Player 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.' Consistent with that obligation, the UPC states that 'Player therefore understands and agrees that Player's duties and obligations under this Minor League Uniform Player Contract continue in full force throughout the calendar year."
     This requires minor leaguers to participate in spring training, extended spring training, instructional league, conditioning and winter training, without compensation or overtime wages.
     "Since minor leaguers do not belong to a union, nothing has prevented the defendants from artificially and illegally depressing minor league wages. Indeed, MLB's exemption from antitrust laws has only made it easier. Given that MLB carefully controls the entryway into the highest levels of baseball, and given the young minor leaguer's strong desire to enter the industry, MLB and the defendants have exploited minor leaguers by paying salaries below minimum wage, by not paying overtime wages, and by often paying no wages at all."
     Senne seeks class certification and damages for FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations, recordkeeping requirements, state wage and hour violations, payday requirements, waiting time penalties, itemized wage statement violations, unfair business practices and quantum meruit.
     He also seeks an injunction preventing the defendants from implementing their unlawful practices and requiring them to pay all wages pursuant to state and federal law.
     He is represented by Daniel Warshaw with Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, in Sherman Oaks.
     Minor leaguers are paid so little they often room with local fans in a spare bedroom or garage, according to one who played with the Lake Elsinore Storm, the San Diego Padres Class A team.