MLB is fighting to suppress Minor League Baseball wages again

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Minor League Baseball players aren’t paid during spring training, and Major League Baseball would like to keep it that way for any of them that play in Arizona. The state has a minimum wage law, voted on by Arizona’s own citizens in 2016, that will increase the rate from the current $11 to $12 by 2020, and MLB wants an exemption for Minor League players in the state, in the same way they received an exemption from the federal government for minimum wage with the atrocious “Save America’s Pastime Act.”

Some background: MiLB’s players are already only paid during the regular season — not during spring training nor the MiLB postseason — and that pay is horrifically inadequate as is. Players are paid a minimum of $1,160 per month, which is the minimum wage rate for 40 hours of work per week, per month. The thing is, players are working more like 70 hours per week, don’t receive overtime pay, and are often responsible for paying for their own equipment in addition to housing and food costs. When the season ends, these same players have to get jobs outside of baseball in order to survive until the next paycheck comes in.

Being paid during spring training wouldn’t solve all of these woes, not even close, but it would obviously be a step in the right direction. And let’s not forget that there are Minor League Games in Arizona throughout the regular season to consider as well, as well as the Arizona Fall League: that’s where the real battle is here.

If you’ve followed along with the fight against MLB’s depressed wages, then you likely already know that former MiLB player and current lawyer Garrett Broshuis is at the center of this fight in Arizona, thanks to Senne vs. MLB. Broshuis told me back in 2018 that the federal decision to limit MiLB player pay was a blow, but not the end of the discussion: “We still have the state laws to operate under going forward, and we’re going to continue prosecuting our lawsuit to the fullest extent.” Arizona is one such place where Broshuis is keeping the fight going, as well as Florida, which also hosts spring training games.

MLB is obviously aware of the implications of state laws superceding federal ones, so they’ve turned their attention to lobbying in Arizona, where a $12 minimum wage for MiLB players would mean $1,920 for four 40-hour weeks in a month. That’s still not even close to what players should be receiving for all the work they put in, especially when you consider the profits of not just Major League Baseball (a record $10.3 billion in 2018), but also Minor League Baseball. It’s obviously preferable, though, and would play a role in keeping players from needing to, say, order McDonald’s again and again during the week on their pitiful per diem.

MLB is, of course, saying that an exemption for MiLB players isn’t a significant deal, but it might be, according to the reporting of Ben Giles:

And [Rep. T.J.] Shope acknowledged it’s questionable if the law furthers the voters intent.

That argument is crucial, since the Arizona Constitution has strict protections for voter-approved laws. If lawmakers want to change those laws, as HB 2180 proposes, it requires a three-fourths majority vote of the Legislature and must further the law’s intent.

Attorneys for Living United for Change, a major backer of the minimum wage initiative, said they don’t think Shope’s bill furthers the purpose of the law.

Shope said whether his bill meets those requirements is “something we’re going to have to talk about.” And the political reality of convincing three-fourths of his colleagues to vote for the bill could spell its doom.

“If there is organized opposition to this, you’re never going to get the three-fourths vote anyway,” Shope said.

This is what terrifies MLB so much about Arizona’s minimum wage law, and why they’re being proactive about it following their successful Congressional lobbying: if one state can work around MLB’s buddies in Congress, then other states can, too. And the precedent of Arizona will be cited in those other states, meaning MLB might actually have to spend some of those profits on MiLB’s players. And since Arizona hosts spring training games, it’s possible a victory with minimum wage could also lead to a W with regard to paying minor leaguers for spring training somewhere down the line.

Maybe luckily for Broshuis, too, is that the Major League Baseball Players Association has actually spoken up on the issue. Real support from the union of MLB’s players could mean everything to this fight: there need to be more times where the MLBPA remembers that MiLB players are present workers and future union members, and joining with them in a fight against MLB now, in the early stages, is certainly one way to make them see the power of a union… one with its own fights against MLB to contend with.

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