Ex-Minor Leaguers Sue MLB Over Low Salaries

Like many young baseball players, Aaron Senne dreamed of fame and fortune when he signed his first contract as a Miami Marlins' draft choice after a record-breaking college career at Missouri.

Reality as a low-level minor leaguer was far different: vending machine dinners, bug-infested apartments and a paltry salary with an equivalent hourly wage less than what fast-food workers make.

Senne and former minor league players in each of the 30 big league organizations are suing Major League Baseball, alleging violations of federal wage and overtime laws in a case some legal observers suggest has significant merit. They are seeking class-action status on behalf of the estimated 6,000 ballplayers who toil each summer in outposts stretching from Bluefield, Virginia, to Bakersfield, California, as well as an unspecified amount of back pay.

"You come from high school or college where you're not making anything and you just think, 'I'm getting paid to play baseball. I'll chase my dream,'" said Senne, who retired last year after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2011, one year after the Marlins paid him a $25,000 signing bonus as a 10th round pick. "You get that first paycheck and you do a double take. It's an eye opener."

In Senne's case, that first check from the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers, a short-season Class A affiliate, was for $1,100 a month and $25 a day in meal money. At his peak, he earned $7,000 in 2012, but like all minor leaguers, wasn't paid salary during spring training or for his offseason conditioning work.

Federal antitrust exemptions have largely protected pro baseball from comparable legal challenges. But in this case, the 32 plaintiffs recruited by attorney Garrett Broshuis — another former minor leaguer from Mizzou who went to law school after six seasons in the San Francisco Giants' organization — allege violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a 1938 law that stipulates a minimum wage for workers and requires overtime for most employees who work more than 40 hours weekly.

The suit was filed earlier this year in federal court in San Francisco, though Major League Baseball wants to move the suit to Florida, where most of its teams spend spring training and courts are considered more employer-friendly.

"Yes, these guys are chasing a dream," said Broshuis, acknowledging that short-term sacrifices can become distant memories should a big league contract be attained, which carries the promise of a $500,000 minimum salary while on the 25-man major league roster or disabled list. "But it's also a job. And it's a job they put a lot of hours in."

Attorneys representing Major League Baseball in the California case did not respond to interview requests, and a spokesman in the league's New York office declined comment. In a 78-page response to the suit, the league and Commissioner Bud Selig outlined 30 objections, including an exemption under the federal wage law for "seasonal, amusement or recreational" workers and a contractual requirement that workplace disputes must first go to arbitration before courts intervene.

University of New Hampshire law professor Michael McCann, director of the school's Sports and Entertainment Law Institute, notes that most minor league salaries fall far below the federal poverty level of $11,670 for a single person and $23,850 for a family of four. Nor do minor leaguers have the power of a union to advocate on their behalf.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: North Conway teen, Abigail Hernandez, has been missing for two months.
Conway Police Department/AP Photo|www.bringabbyhome.com
Shirley MacLaine Selling Retreat in Mexico
Zillow | Inset: Carlos R. Alvarez/Getty Images