Minor League Ballplayers Sue Baseball in Labor-Antitrust Class Action


     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Most minor league baseball players earn only $3,000 to $7,500 a year for work weeks of up to 70 hours, while Major League Baseball enjoys billions of dollars in revenue, minor leaguers claim in a federal class action against Major League Baseball, its 30 teams, and Commissioner Bud Selig.
     Yadel Marti, who played for the Oakland Athletics from 2010 through 2012, and five other former minor leaguers filed the labor complaint on Monday. They seek damages for violations of state and federal labor laws, unfair competition and antitrust violations.
     "Since minor leaguers do not belong to a union, nothing has prevented the defendants from artificially and illegally depressing minor league wages," the lawsuit states. "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."
     The average value of MLB's 30 franchises is estimated at $744 million. Major League Baseball pulled in revenue of more than $7.5 billion in 2012 and expects $9 billion this year, according to the complaint.
     "The baseball players employed by the defendants account for much of this rise in revenue, as they comprise the chief product offered by MLB and its teams. Without baseball players, MLB and its teams would not exist. Yet MLB and its franchises pay most players - the minor leaguers - wages that fall well below minimum wage," the players say.
     While major leaguers' salaries have increased by more than 2,000 percent since 1976, minor leaguers' salaries have increased by an average of only 75 percent. Inflation has risen by more than 400 percent in that time, according to the complaint.
     Unlike major leaguers, minor leaguers do not have a union or collective bargaining agreement, and "efforts to unionize minor leaguers have been unsuccessful because minor leaguers fear retaliation by the defendants. Minor leaguers are afraid to challenge the MLB-imposed wage system, for fear it would jeopardize their careers," the complaint states.
     Because minor leaguers are powerless against MLB, the league is able to collude on many aspects of the minor leaguers' working conditions, such as wages, contract terms and discipline, according to the complaint.
     "Most minor leaguers earn between around $3,000 and $7,500 for the entire year, despite routinely working between 50 and 70 hours per week during the roughly five-month championship season," the players say.
     Although salary guidelines are not publicly available, the players believe that MLB imposes the following salaries per month during championship season: $1,100 for Rookie and Short-Season A; $1,250 for Class-A; $1,500 for Class-AA; and $2,150 for Class-AAA.
     In comparison, the minimum yearly salary for a major league player in 2014 is $500,000 and the average salary in 2013 was $3.3 million, according to mlb.com.
     During the championship season, the minor league players have a day off only about once every two to three weeks. Before their three-hour games, the players are required to participate in mandatory activities such as batting and fielding practice, throwing, stretching and conditioning, resulting in seven-day workweeks that are well over 40 hours, according to the complaint.
     MLB also requires minor leaguers to participate in spring training, which falls outside of the paid five-month championship season, leaving the players to work without pay. Spring training can last a month or longer, the lawsuit states.
     Additionally, around 30 to 45 players per franchise are selected to participate in an instructional league for one month after the championship season, to hone their skills, during which they also go unpaid, the complaint states.
     "In order to monopolize players and depress their salaries, the MLB cartel inserted a provision (known as the reserve clause) into players' contracts that allows teams to retain the contractual rights to players and restricts their ability to negotiate with other teams for their baseball services and the compensation they receive, which reserve clause preserves MLB's minor league system of artificially low salaries and nonexistent contractual mobility," the players say.
     Under the contract, which usually grants an MLB team the exclusive rights to a minor leaguer for seven championship seasons, the player cannot voluntarily leave one team to play for another baseball team, even outside of MLB or outside of the country. They must also get the commissioner's approval to retire from baseball during that seven-year term, the complaint states.
     "By the expiration of the contract, much of the value of the minor leaguer as a young prospect has expired because the player has aged," the complaint states.
     The players seek class certification, a protective injunction and damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and state labor and wage laws of California, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Oregon.
     They are represented by Samuel Kornhauser.
     MLB did not immediately return a request for comment.