On April 3, Main League Baseball and the MLB Gamers Affiliation agreed to the first-ever collective bargaining settlement protecting minor league baseball gamers. As I beforehand mentioned, this was solely about seven months after the minor league gamers joined the union and MLB agreed to voluntarily acknowledge the Gamers Affiliation as their bargaining consultant.
The unionization effort and resultant contract adopted years of acrimony between minor league gamers and MLB regarding what the gamers thought to be insufficient wages and dwelling situations. In 2015, minor league gamers, led by Aaron Senne, filed a category/collective motion towards MLB and its golf equipment, alleging they’d violated the Truthful Labor Requirements Act and numerous state wage-hour legal guidelines by failing to pay the gamers the minimal wage and additional time. In March 2023, a decide permitted a $185 million settlement in that case.
Within the midst of that litigation, MLB efficiently lobbied Congress for a partial exemption from the FLSA. In March 2018, as a part of an omnibus spending invoice, Congress amended the FLSA to exempt the next class of staff from its protections:
any worker employed to play baseball who’s compensated pursuant to a contract that gives for a weekly wage for providers carried out throughout the league’s championship season (however not spring coaching or the off season) at a fee that’s not lower than a weekly wage equal to the minimal wage underneath part 206(a) of this title for a workweek of 40 hours, no matter the variety of hours the worker devotes to baseball associated actions.
The exemption didn’t absolutely defeat the claims within the Senne motion as a result of it didn’t apply to conduct that occurred earlier than March 2018 or to state regulation claims.
The exemption additionally didn’t apply to spring coaching and the low season, and nonetheless required gamers to be paid a minimal weekly wage of $290 (the $7.25 federal minimal wage x 40 hours).
Within the new contract, the gamers have agreed to assist a broader exemption. The contract features a draft letter that the Gamers Affiliation agreed to ship to “lawmakers/regulators.” That letter, in full, states as follows:
On behalf of Main League Baseball and its thirty Golf equipment (collectively “MLB”) and the Main League Baseball Gamers Affiliation (the “Gamers Affiliation”), the labor union representing all home Minor League Gamers employed by an MLB Membership (“Gamers”), we write to make clear our joint place on the therapy of Minor League Gamers represented by the Gamers Affiliation underneath numerous wage and hour legal guidelines.
We write to precise our joint assist for laws that would offer a narrowly tailor-made exemption from wage and hour legal guidelines (together with minimal wage, additional time and recordkeeping necessities) that in any other case may apply to Gamers, in deference to the compensation and profit provisions of the brand new collective bargaining settlement negotiated by the Gamers Affiliation, on behalf of Gamers, and MLB, (“Minor League CBA”), offered the exemption would solely apply to Gamers throughout the interval wherein they’re compensated pursuant to the phrases of the CBA.
The brand new Minor League CBA treats Gamers as salaried staff wherein they obtain weekly salaries all through the calendar yr (excluding a quick interval across the holidays when Gamers are off and never permitted to carry out work for his or her Golf equipment). Different advantages Gamers will obtain underneath the Minor League CBA embrace however should not restricted to well being advantages, retirement advantages, housing advantages, and wage continuation within the occasion of incapacity ensuing from a work-related harm. For that reason, we agree that Gamers who’re receiving the compensation and advantages negotiated by the events as set forth in our Minor League CBA protecting the 2023-2027 seasons needs to be handled as “exempt” salaried professionals and, as such, want no recourse to sue for minimal wage, additional time and recordkeeping violations at some point of the Minor League CBA.
The letter thus helps an expanded exemption from the FLSA that might cowl spring coaching and the low season whatever the quantities the gamers are paid. For 2023, the collective bargaining settlement gives minor leaguers with $625 per week for low season work on the group’s coaching complicated and $250 per week away from the complicated. Starting in 2024, spring coaching pay is $625 per week. Though these quantities are a substantial enchancment over previous ranges, they’re nonetheless low sufficient to probably create FLSA points.
Additional, the letter additionally seemingly makes the declare that gamers needs to be handled as exempt “professionals” underneath the FLSA. Two varieties of staff qualify as professionals who’re exempt from the FLSA’s minimal wage and additional time necessities. First, the “discovered skilled” exemption applies to staff whose work is mental in nature and requires information of a complicated sort that’s the results of specialised educational research. This exemption sometimes applies to attorneys, medical doctors, accountants, engineers, and the like. The “artistic skilled” exemption applies to staff whose main responsibility is the efficiency of labor requiring invention, creativeness, originality or expertise in a acknowledged area of creative or artistic endeavor. The applying of both class to skilled baseball gamers is questionable.
The letter calls to thoughts the non-statutory labor exemption, which protects the insurance policies and guidelines of multi-employer bargaining models, such because the groups inside sports activities leagues, from antitrust scrutiny as long as they’re negotiated with the workers’ union. The aim of this exemption is to advertise collective bargaining and labor peace. MLB and the Gamers Affiliation are actually looking for the identical degree of governmental non-interference in the case of federal employment regulation. Certainly, the events have even agreed that wage and hour claims (federal, state and native) have to be arbitrated on a person, moderately than class, foundation.
The letter is a strong play for MLB. Will Congress be persuaded?