As part of $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in March, section 13(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act is amended to exempt minor league baseball players from a class of workers entitled to certain minimum wages and overtime pay under the FLSA.
The amendment, known as the Save America’s Pastime Act, which appears on Page 1967 of the 2,232 page bill, specifically exempts:
[a]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.
As “exempt” workers, minor league baseball players are not entitled to greater wages, even after spending more than 40 hours a week on baseball-related activities. As of last season, there were about 6,500 minor league players across all MLB systems with salaries ranging from $1,100 per month in rookie and low-A ball to $2,150 per month in triple-A. The Act continues the MLB’s discretion in setting these salaries, provided they are at least equal to the minimum wage under FLSA section 6(a) for a 40-hour workweek (about $290 per week).
This settles a long-running dispute as to whether minor leaguers could command additional wages for hours spent honing their craft outside of official game and practice time.
The Act effectively quashes a class-action lawsuit partially certified in the 9th Circuit in 2017.
The original action, which was filed against the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball in 2014, alleged that the League violated federal minimum wage and overtime standards because some players earn as little as $1,100 per month and no minor leaguers receive overtime pay despite spending, on average, around 50 hours per week on baseball activities.
Placing minor leaguers among the 13(a) exemptions appears to endorse the MLB’s view that a baseball player’s minimum wage and overtime pay are “incalculable.” Unlike other jobs that track hours through formal time recording, a player’s employer cannot monitor, much less project the number of hours he might “work.” It would be unrealistic and detrimental to organizations if, for example, minor league teams had to deny players extra batting practice or time in the weight room in order to afford to be able to afford to pay them.
Interestingly, the Act does not expressly mention its impact to the unaffiliated teams of independent professional leagues, where the average player is paid below federal minimum wage standards and salary caps per team fall well short of $100,000 and whether these leagues falling within the Act’s definition of baseball. Prior to the passing of this legislation, independent leagues operated under the assumption that its players were seasonal employees and not subject to overtime or minimum wage laws. If the Act is applied to independent leagues, players who have earned any average salary of $750-$800 per month would now be entitled to federal minimum wage (about $1,100 per month).
Many argue that this would put many of these leagues out of business. As Mike Shapiro, President of the Independent League Pacific Association’s San Rafael Pacifics stated, “If that is the case, it puts us out of business.” It is possible that independent leagues could still try to argue that they fall within the FLSA’s “seasonal exception” and exempt them from the minimum wage requirement contained in Save America’s Pastime because of their short season and teams’ lack of control over players in the off-season. However, this issue has yet to be addressed by Congress or the courts.