Pro Baseball FanFest Volunteers Lose Appeal

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Volunteers for Major League Baseball’s All-Star FanFest two years ago struck out again in their bid to be paif for the unpaid labor they said made “the largest interactive baseball theme park in the world” possible, the Second Circuit ruled Friday.
     In 2013, plaintiff John Chen led a team of 2,000 volunteers to Federal Court to complain that they received free tsotchkes, admission and a raffle in exchange for helping run an event touted as “baseball heaven on earth.”
     With an annual revenue of $7 billion, the “lucrative, for-profit” league could afford to be more generous, Chen said.
     His class action lawsuit demanded the federal minimum wage for all volunteers who provided hospitality, event logistics, community events and transportation services at the four-day event at the Jacob Javits Center.
     Cramming 40 attractions into 450,000 square-foot space, FanFest included a green-carpeted replica baseball diamond, the world’s largest baseball, baseball-themed video games, photo booths, a simulated baseball dugout and fields, baseball clinics, batting cages, music offerings, and autograph signing.
     Sports lovers and historians could also browse the memorabilia collections and a presentation on the Negro Leagues.
     Volunteers received in-kind benefits such as T-shirts, caps, drawstring backpacks, fanny packs, water bottles, baseballs, lanyards, free admission to FanFest for each volunteer and a guest, and a chance to win a pair of tickets to the main event of the four-day festival: the All-Star Game at Citi Field.
     Chen sued for compensation beyond his t-shirt, cap, drawstring backpack, water bottle, and baseball under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
     Last year, however, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl found that the law contains an exemption for minimum wage requirements at an “amusement or recreational establishment.”
     In affirming Koeltl’s ruling Friday, U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said that Chen’s appeal came down to the meaning of the word “establishment.”
     For Chen, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, FanFest could not be a separate establishment because Major League Baseball planned its operations and were the employers of the volunteers, and it was more of a “convention” than an “amusement or recreation” center.
     The court disagreed because the Javits Center operated away from the league’s Park Avenue office or any other All-Star Week event.
     “This physical separation is determinative in deciding whether these business units constitute a single establishment or multiple ones,” the opinion states.
     Rejecting the description of FanFest as a “convention,” Pooler said that its “mix of offerings was quite similar to that of an amusement park or carnival, both of which fall within the meaning of an amusement or recreational establishment.”
     A spokesman with Major League Baseball said the league was “pleased” with the decision.

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