Major League Wage Theft: How Baseball Owners and Congress Exploit Minor League Players

Joel Mendelson

Joel Mendelson Communications Specialist, Jobs with Justice

Baseball season begins this week and fans across the country will see their favorite players and all-stars play in places like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field. The season commencement will also be cause for celebration for the former farm team players who advanced to the majors for the first time. By joining a major league team, an athlete finally earns a fair return on his work and performance.

As for the infielders, pitchers, shortstops and the rest of the players in the minors?  As a result of a recent act by federal lawmakers, they’re starting out the season with a losing streak. Thousands of professional athletes who play for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Montgomery Biscuits, Kannapolis Intimidators, and the nearly 250 teams in Minor League Baseball could soon make less than the minimum wage.

On Friday, Congress eliminated Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections for minor league players through a provision buried in the 2200-plus page omnibus spending bill. The “Save America’s Pastime Actreclassifies baseball players as “seasonal employees,” thus allowing wealthy owners to pay them for only regular season games. Now owners can technically avoid paying players for all their hours spent in spring training, off-season workouts, team meetings, appearances, and more.

Even though they are employed by the same Major League team owners, for every superstar like Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper earning millions, there’s a career minor leaguer just trying to put food on the table for his family. Working and living conditions for minor leaguers are anything but glamorous. Those playing in the lower levels often struggle to make ends meet, earning as little as $1100 a month for only three months a year. That’s less than most people working at fast-food restaurants earn. Players often take second jobs during the offseason, while still trying to train, practice, and prepare for a shot at the big leagues.

Despite turning significant profits, every season the league refuses to pay minor leaguers sustainable wages. At the same time, billionaire owners ask for and typically receive huge subsidies of public taxpayer dollars to fund new stadiums.

In recent years, players filed multiple lawsuits against Major League Baseball, accusing the league of intentionally underpaying and exploiting minor league players. In 2017, a federal appeals court ruled against four players, who alleged Major League Baseball colluded to pay players low wages. They believed Major League Baseball violated antitrust laws. However, the Save America’s Pastime Act isn’t the first time Congress put MLB owners before players. In the late-1990s, Congress passed a bill exempting Major League Baseball from antitrust laws. The lawsuit alleging MLB withheld wages and exploited players violated the FLSA, remains active, but the new law could hamper players’ efforts to hold MLB and owners accountable.

Given the league’s extreme opposition to paying minor league players a sustainable wage, why do major league baseball players earn considerable sums and benefit from endorsement deals? For decades, owners controlled everything about players. In the late-1960s, players had enough. St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood helped lead the first organizing effort and together with labor veteran Marvin Miller, players joined together and formed the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. Over the course of the next five decades, players fought to win their freedom to sign with different teams, negotiate strong contracts, and ensure owners could no longer exploit them or future players in the majors.

We call foul on the Major League Baseball, and billionaire team owners using their friends in Congress to rig the rules of the game. Once again, underhanded lawmakers rigged the rules to keep billionaires happy. In doing so, they stripped minor league players of their freedom to earn a decent wage training for and playing the game they love. As we all head to the ballpark this season, let’s remember that baseball players—like all working people—deserve a fair shake and the power in numbers to take care of their basic needs in life.

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Reposted from JWJ

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work