Baseball striking out on player pay equity

Is it so much to ask of an organization to pay its employees a fair wage? Trials and tribulations are part of the journey to the show, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of living a decent life. As fans, we should demand the very best athletes that our dollars can buy. It doesn’t seem that those with two or more jobs get to focus solely on baseball.

 

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By Bret Thixton  May 18, 2014  http://www.myjournalcourier.com

Under the federal minimum wage, an individual working full-time can expect to earn around $15,080. Most Minor League Baseball players earn between $3,000 and $7,500 in a five month season. The average Major League Baseball player will make $3.39 million in a year.

When thinking of income inequality, the discussion has rarely focused on the professional sports world. While there exist income differences among the major sports, a glaring issue exists in the world of baseball. The numbers above point to a huge gap in the salaries for the athletes in our national pastime.

There can be a number of Minor League affiliates associated with a Major League organization. From AAA to rookie leagues, this system is designed to prepare players to make the leap to the MLB. The development of these players is important to Major League clubs as they work toward the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. However, only a very select few of these players will ever make it to the show. The players who don’t make it to the big leagues serve simply as agents of making sure the ones who do are ready.

The importance of these players can’t be understated. Because of them, the players that eventually make the big leap are prepared for the competition at the highest level.

The MLB has been able to get away with these low wages due to a historical exemption from antitrust laws. They are allowed to set salaries and working conditions without players suing under the Sherman Act. This, combined with the inability to unionize, has led to low wages and no major lawsuits.

A new lawsuit, Senne v. MLB, sparked discussion over the payment of these minor leaguers. This lawsuit, brought on by three former Minor Leaguers, claims that wages were unlawfully low. It is currently in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for violations of wage and overtime laws.

The usage of contracts is what the MLB will rely on as they prepare to face legal action. Because players voluntarily agreed to these contracts of their pay, they aren’t guaranteed any more pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act classifies players as professional employees, making players exempt. The players either deal with these terms or do not play.

However, the other side is arguing that the MLB is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and other laws that guarantee minimum wage and overtime pay. In a sport where you must constantly train and perform, it’s easy to put in more than 40 hours in a week. The players who are suing the league claim to put in 60 or 70 hours in a typical work week.

The MLB and MiLB enjoy the low wages for the players and the low cost of attendance for the games, as they are quite popular in the cities they play in. They state that an increase in wages would be passed onto fans. That is not fair, nor the right answer to the issue.

When Alex Rodriguez gets paid $29 million per year, it’s hard to justify not paying the Minor Leaguers a fair wage. By subtracting just $1 million off the top contract in each organization, an organization could pass around $5,000 to each and every player in their MiLB affiliated clubs.

It may not be fair to take money away from those who pull in the top contracts. But at some point, the MLB needs to understand the true value of its Minor League systems. Minor Leaguers playing today make less than those in 1976, while mega deals seem to break records every year.

These minor leaguers often get jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. This doesn’t allow them to focus on baseball in the off-season or play in other winter leagues.

Is it so much to ask of an organization to pay its employees a fair wage? Trials and tribulations are part of the journey to the show, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of living a decent life. As fans, we should demand the very best athletes that our dollars can buy. It doesn’t seem that those with two or more jobs get to focus solely on baseball.

In a culture that worships veterans and the journey to the majors, baseball has lost sight of the importance that these young men bring to the game itself.

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