MiLB players, pandemic assistance, and a $15 minimum wage

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A new president, a new White House administration, and a Senate that could actually pass some Democratic party laws without being blocked by the Republicans on everything means we might actually see, well, some of that. Of course, this new era is also opening up with Joe Biden et al trying to tell you that they always meant $1,400 checks when they said $2,000 checks, and that they plan on reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans instead of just leveraging the power they’ve been entrusted with by voters to forcibly slap some bandages over a country that has no hope of stopping the bleeding, but hey. Optimism, or something.

For our purposes here, there are two items of note worth paying attention to. First up is the pandemic unemployment assistance benefits are expected to be expanded in the proposed $1.9 trillion spending bill, in the sense that they will continue on. The current proposal has those unemployment figures at just $400 per week instead of $600, though, with the logic being that fewer people are out of work now, so less money needs to go out. That math doesn’t exactly check out, since “fewer people out of work” doesn’t solve the financial situations for those who remain out of work, but I’m no economist, nor am I a highly paid consultant for Democrats.

The continuation of weekly pandemic unemployment payouts is going to matter for the majority of Minor League Baseball players, who are once again unlikely to have a fully scheduled season. We already know that the start of the Double-A and Single-A seasons will be delayed, as spring training for minor leaguers isn’t expected to begin until after MLB players have left spring training camps at the end of March and early April. That would mean, at the earliest, the seasons for Double- and Single-A leagues would begin sometime in May. And, as J.J. Cooper notes, Triple-A players might not be free from these delay issues, either. Their situation is just more unclear than that of the players at the levels below them.

This should all be read as the best-case situation for the MiLB season, too: should local or federal governments force a postponement of the start of the MLB season or spring training, there will be a cascade effect that impacts the minors.

So, these MiLB players needed unemployment assistance to continue to exist, since MLB only paid out the $400 per week stipends in-season. They do not pay minor-league players during spring training or in the offseason, which means it’s been some time since any of these thousands of players received anything like a paycheck from the league. Federal unemployment assistance should help them continue to weather this storm, and in the event of further delays to the regular season — and the paychecks they would receive for working — will be even more necessary. Getting $400 weekly from the government isn’t perfect, either, but if MLB repeats their 2020 stipends and gets the players $400 per week as well, for once, MiLB players can experience what it feels like to make better than poverty-level wages, albeit temporarily.

Which brings us to the second item: Biden and Co. want to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. This would be great news if it was retroactive to when $15 per hour was a livable wage, but alas, despite how long ago that was, we’re not far enough into the future for any of us to be able to go back in time and warn the Fight For $15 people that they’re going to want to aim higher.

The $15 minimum wage thing last came up about 18 months ago, in June of 2019, when the Senate voted against the House resolution for an increase to the federal minimum. The fight for $15, as it were, began in 2012, three years after the previous increase in the federal minimum wage: it is now 2021, and since inflation exists, $15 isn’t what it used to be. In 2019, when I last covered this story, that $15 from 2012 was worth $13.45. Now, in 2021, that same inflation calculator returns $13.31 for that same $15. Which means the same points I made about raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour with regards to minor-league salaries still exist, just with a little bit more inflation tacked on:

A jump to a $15 minimum wage would be massive for MLB’s minor-league players, who currently, at the lowest levels, pull in $1,160 per month, and only for the months of the regular season. Despite working about 70 hours per week, none of them are receiving overtime, and won’t, either, thanks to MLB’s years of lobbying Congress to make sure that didn’t happen, which resulted in minor-league players being singled out in last spring’s $1.3 trillion spending bill. They have to get offseason jobs, split roach-infested, filthy, broken apartments with five other teammates, eat mac and cheese and ramen and Dollar Menu meals all the time because of the low pay and road-only $25 per diem, purchase their own equipment… you see what I’m saying. More than doubling the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 would be huge for these sub-poverty-level workers.

Of course, then these players would still only be making $2,400 per month for five months — that’s just $12,000 per season — and they still wouldn’t have overtime, or their housing taken care of, or a higher per diem, or their equipment acquired by the team. That’s how horrific the current pay conditions are for these players, that more than doubling their salaries would still leave them in a horrible place where they’re overworked, underpaid, and forced to pick up secondary jobs while still keeping themselves in shape for baseball and honing their skills outside of the season.

Let’s not forget, either, that the resolution that passed back in 2019 was going to take its sweet time actually getting to $15 per hour: it’s not as if we’d all have woken up the next day back in June of 2019 and suddenly the world had changed. The plan was to take another six years before the full effects of the $15 minimum had kicked in. Which is to say, that $15 would be worth even less, since the prices of everything besides Arizona Iced Tea would have gone up. And still, MLB would have pointed to it as a reason that no other pay raises were going to be necessary for their minor-league players.

Will Biden’s plan take the opposite approach and immediately introduce a $15 minimum wage? That feels unlikely, despite the rhetoric about improving the plights of folks now. But maybe the idea is to infuriate even more small business owners so that they storm federal buildings; maybe this is all an elaborate sting operation, I don’t know. We are talking about the same administration that is trying to Intuit The Fine Print their way out of cutting $2,000 checks, so until we know for sure, it’s safer to expect that other shoe to drop right on your neck.

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