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Feds target MLB teams, interns, clubbies over back pay

Major League BaseballBetter prepare: the Labor Department is targeting Major League Baseball teams for back pay to interns and clubhouse staff, bringing them to minimum wage.

Let’s face it: lowly paid labor is a backbone of all professional sports, and many current front-office personnel spent their time toiling for low wages (or, going back some time, no wages) in exchange for experience. That experience is often cited as a tool for eventually landing a full-time job.

But the feds have been targeting unpaid or lowly paid interns the past several years, beginning with the publishing industry and now other industries. And pro baseball is certainly a low-hanging fruit. Interns and clubbies are expected to perform a wide range of duties in 10-12 hour days. (MLB clubbies have a slightly different arrangement: they’re also “tipped” by players. Many players use per-diem payments to tip clubbies.) Still, there’s no doubt baseball’s financial structure has attracted some unwanted attention, per FairWarning:

Officials with the department’s Wage and Hour Division, who confirmed they are investigating the Orioles and A’s, also disclosed terms of settlements that will require the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants to give back wages to underpaid workers.

According to agency spokesman Jason Surbey, the Marlins agreed to pay $288,290 in back wages and damages to 39 team employees, including clubhouse and office staff. The 23 clubhouse workers, who provide services to team players, such as cleaning and preparing the locker room for games, were paid $50 a day. But they worked as many as 11 hours on game days, and so were not properly paid the minimum wage and overtime, Surbey said.

The settlement with the Giants involves payment of $220,793 in back wages and damages to 78 employees. Most were interns who received stipends but were determined by the agency to have been employees entitled to minimum wage and overtime. The interns worked in baseball operations and group sales, among other duties, and were due back wages ranging from $60 to $4,000 apiece.

Now, these aren’t huge amounts of money, relative to the revenues of an MLB team. But they’re certainly significant enough for federal attention.


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