Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) have introduced the Save America’s Pastime Act  (SAPA) to preserve the decades-old minor league pay structure which prevents players from receiving overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (Bustos withdrew her support for the legislation almost immediately after its introduction following her constituency’s negative reaction, “several concerns about the bill have been brought to my attention that have led me to immediately withdraw my support of the legislation”). SAPA, proposed in response to a wage and hour class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly 2,300 minor league players seeking compensation in accordance with the FLSA, would create a new FLSA exemption for minor league players and permit the current minor league pay structure to continue.

Currently, minor league players are paid a monthly salary and are deemed ineligible for overtime compensation by their employers.

The players in Senne v. Major League Baseball seek a declaratory judgment mandating that Major League Baseball (MLB), which pays the salaries of minor-league players, pay them in accordance with FLSA overtime provisions.

The suit also requests back pay for those retired players who were compensated below minimum wage.

The minor league players claim that some of them are paid as little as $3,000 to $7,500 per season, despite working 50-70 hours a week and being required to train year-round to maintain team-mandated conditioning levels. In addition, they are required to continually work on improving their skills, including during unpaid spring training. While many minor league players were former high-draft picks who received large signing bonuses and now are legitimate major league prospects, most work under minor league contracts paid by the major league affiliates of the minor league teams. Minor league players are not represented by the Major League Baseball Players Association, and therefore are not protected by the minimum salary mandated in the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement.

MLB argues that the players’ claims are moot because the nature of the players’ work is akin to a FLSA-exempted “seasonal apprenticeship” and that playing minor league baseball is not a primary occupation.

MLB also argues that the wage and hour laws were not intended to apply to professional athletes such as minor-league baseball players and that requiring baseball players to maintain time sheets and submit requests for overtime when they want extra-batting practice is both impractical and nonsensical.

Additionally, MLB asserts that the players should be forced to submit their disputes to arbitration, as stipulated in their contracts.

SAPA, aimed at minor-league baseball players, would exclude “any employee who has entered into a contract to play baseball at the minor league level” from the minimum wage and overtime protections of the FLSA. The bill also states that the fact that minor league players are excluded should not be read to imply that Major League players are themselves in fact covered by the minimum wages and overtime laws.

Backers of the proposed legislation argue that requiring MLB to comply with the federal and state wage and hour laws would mean awarding the players in Senne more than $100 million in back pay. The potential award could require minor league clubs to assist in the payment of their players, possibly forcing many of the smaller, less stable franchises into bankruptcy and eliminating jobs. Opponents of the legislation argue that minor league baseball has evolved and can no longer be characterized as an apprenticeship or a seasonal occupation and that federal wage and hour laws must apply.

We will continue to monitor the bill and the suit and report on significant developments.

 

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.