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Lost in the shuffle of postseason news came a major development for an ongoing lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Senne v. MLB — the shorthand way of referring to Aaron Senne et al v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp — will keep the class action status that it won last August. In January of 2020, the Ninth Circuit court denied MLB’s request to rescind that class action status, and now, 10 months later, the Supreme Court has done the same.
Garrett Broshuis, a former minor-league player himself who is now a lawyer fighting for MiLB players past and present, expected that MLB would try the Supreme Court appeal route back when I spoke with him about the class action status being granted in 2019. That was MLB’s last option against a lawsuit that has been on a roll in the courts: Senne v. MLB will now resume “in the coming months,” per Jeff Passan, as there are no further courts for MLB to appeal to.
Some background: Senne v. MLB is looking for the league to be forced into paying back wages that former MiLB players feel are owed to them. Those players feel owed with good reason: MLB doesn’t pay minor-league players for spring training games, or for the MiLB postseason, or for instructional leagues. They have to spend their entire calendar year training to stay in game shape, without financial assistance from MLB, which results in MiLB players needing to pick up second jobs even during spring training in order to pay their bills that don’t stop coming in just because the paychecks do.
While MLB received help from the federal government in keeping MiLB player wages down back in 2018, with the signing of the federal spending omnibus that inexplicably included new rules about how MLB had to pay their players — only the minimum wage and only for 40 hours of work per week, regardless of the fact players work more like 60-plus hours per week — the states are a different story. As Broshuis explained to me back in 2018, “We still have the state laws to operate under going forward, and we’re going to continue prosecuting our lawsuit to the fullest extent.”
Since Minor League Baseball’s players head to spring training in Arizona and Florida, it allowed Senne v. MLB to concentrate their attention in those locales. MLB, too, began to focus on individual states, like in Arizona, where they lobbied local politicians for an exemption to an increase in the state’s increasing minimum wage, because it would mean they needed to pay players there more money, too. From me in January 2019:
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 [$10.3 billion in] 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.
MLB has had to publicly acknowledge that they are attempting to suppress salaries — well, not using that specific language, of course — since they’ve spent years lobbying Congress to keep player salaries down, and have also turned towards states like Arizona to do the same. Public knowledge of the horrid wages and living conditions of MiLB players continues to grow, which has led to MLB attempting to squash the concerns by promising a raise to MiLB’s players for 2021.
That raise, of course, is still lacking: as I said earlier in the year, when news was first coming up about a potential raise, a 50 percent increase of shit is still shit:
Yes, a 50 percent increase in pay is a positive. However, bumping poverty-level wages up by 50 percent means you’re still dealing with poverty-level wages. Consider, too, that a 50 percent jump in pay does not compensate for the fact that these players are still capped at 40 hours per week and aren’t paid overtime, even though they’re working more like 60-plus hours. They still wouldn’t be paid during spring training, or the postseason, or the offseason. For players in the lower levels, a 50 percent bump in pay is a 50 percent bump on a salary that, before taxes, is paying them $1,160 per month. Jumping to $1,740 per month is a plus, but that’s still $8,700 for the season.
However, it’s something MLB can point to as a positive, as proof they’re being proactive about changing for the better. And you can imagine that they will be using the coronavirus pandemic as one of many excuses as to why they simply cannot raise wages any further for who knows how long, despite the fact that only players repeating the Triple-A level manage to be paid better than poverty-level wages under this new system. Like the league used to do in the majors before there was a union with a voice to oppose them, this pay raise is mostly a way for MLB to try to politely crush any potential organizing against them. A small concession now to save them money in the long run.
And yet, this raise still obviously cost the players something and the league essentially nothing, as it is coming on the heels of MLB disaffiliating from one-quarter of Minor League Baseball’s teams and the players who were on them. And in favor of amateur wood bat leagues where there are profits to be made and no salaries to be paid.
Still, there is hope to be found in this latest win for Senne v. MLB. There could be massive implications for not just the former minor-league players in this class action lawsuit should they prevail over MLB once this thing actually goes to court, but also minor leaguers of the present and future, too. And it’s fear of those far-reaching consequences that had MLB seeking to strip the suit of its class action status in the first place.
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