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MiLB Wage Debate Hits the States

Frontier LeagueAn attempt to seek minimum wage payments for pro baseball players via class action has caused at least one state to work on legislation to clearly define ballplayers as seasonal workers not subject to minimum wage requirements.

Lead plaintiff and former Miami Marlins farmhand Aaron Senne had sued Major League Baseball and its 30 teams, arguing that he and thousands of other former minor leaguers were paid less than the minimum wage, seeking to certify his lawsuit as a class action. After being dismissed, the lawsuit was reinstated with a much narrower focus, limited to players who participated in the High-A California League, instructional league or extended spring training since Feb. 7, 2011.

But that did not stop other similar lawsuits from being filed elsewhere. Two players from the independent Frontier League filed a similar suit in U.S. District Court in Ohio, seeking class certification in an attempt to collect back wages from the league and its teams in four states: Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

The response has been legislation in the Illinois Assembly that would exempt professional baseball from the minimum-wage requirements. Not doing so, say Frontier League officials, could seriously threaten the future of the circuit. From the Alton Daily News:

“The issue for the Frontier League is not about anything to do with any proposed raising of the minimum wage [rate] in Illinois,” said Tom Ysursa, general counsel for the Frontier League. “The issue for the Frontier League is to get Illinois law the same as federal law when it comes to whether employers of seasonal employees are to comply with the Minimum Wage Act.”

The Frontier League season runs from mid-May until early September. Ysursa said owners need this change to keep players on the field.

“If their seasonal employees, which is what they are, are not exempt, the costs associated with that threatens the business model and threatens to leave many municipal stadiums empty without tenants,” Ysursa said.

The bill has already passed the state Senate unanimously and is expected to be taken up by the House.

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