Volunteers Demand Pay for Major League FanFest
(CN) - Major League Baseball staffed its "lucrative, for-profit" 2013 All-Star FanFest with thousands of unpaid volunteers in violation of state and federal law, according to a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff John Chen says he and about 2,000 other volunteers worked FanFest, an interactive baseball theme park described as "baseball heaven on earth." They allegedly helped with hospitality, event logistics, community events and transportation for the 40 attractions included with admission, such as the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. The main event was an All-Star Game at Citi Field on July 16.
"Instead of paying them for their work, MLB, the world's preeminent professional baseball league with annual revenue of more than $7 billion, provided volunteers with 'a shirt, a cap and a cinch drawstring backpack,' free admission for the volunteer and one guest to FanFest, a water bottle and a baseball," the volunteers claim in Manhattan Federal Court.
By relying on unpaid volunteers, they say, the Major Leagues deprived federal, state and local governments of "significant tax revenue" and denied volunteers "the ability to earn a fair day's wage for a fair day's work."
The volunteers say the labor arrangement "also excluded New Yorkers and many others who could not afford to work for free."
Entrance to the All-Star FanFest at the Javits Center in Manhattan cost $35 for adults and $30 for children over 2, according to the lawsuit. Once inside, "paying customers could purchase a small bag of potato chips for $5 and a cup of lemonade for $7.50," volunteers claim.
They say the event had several large corporate sponsors and drew thousands of customers, who "spent hundreds of thousands of dollars there."
"MLB could have easily afforded to pay its FanFest workers," the volunteers say.
FanFest infused the city's economy with $191.5 million, by the Major Leagues' own estimate, the lawsuit states.
"None of these millions of dollars, however, ended up in the pockets of the New Yorkers whom MLB recruited to provide the labor necessary to prepare and run FanFest and other All-Star Game events," volunteers say.
They sued Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Properties Inc., the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and Major League Baseball Enterprises Inc. for back pay and an order barring the defendants from "soliciting and accepting work from unpaid volunteers."
The class is represented by Justin Swartz with Outten & Golden in Manhattan.