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Arizona Bill Would Exempt MiLB Players From Minimum Wage Laws

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An Arizona lawmaker has submitted a bill that would exempt minor league players from the state’s minimum wage laws, a proposal that has the backing of Major League Baseball

There is an ongoing legal challenge concerning whether MLB has violated minimum wage laws in its pay for minor league players. MLB has traditionally viewed minor-league players as seasonal apprentices, making their pay exempt from minimum wage requirements. Attempts were made to clarify the law at the federal level until last March, when a spending bill signed by President Donald J. Trump specifically exempted minor league players from federal labor laws.

In an effort to align Arizona’s laws with federal regulations, representative T.J. Shope has introduced a bill that would exempt minor leaguers in the state from requirements concerning minimum wage and overtime pay. Unlike the law at the federal level–which is not retroactive, meaning players could still seek damages from the period before it went into effect–the bill proposed in Arizona would have retroactivity clause.

Arizona’s minimum wage is $11.00 per hour this year before jumping to $12.00 an hour beginning in 2020, as is stipulated in a referendum approved by voters in 2016. MLB supports the bill introduced by Shope, but it will have hurdles to clear on the basis that it would make changes to a voter-approved measure. More from the Arizona Republic:

Shope said the MLB approached him about introducing a bill and he was happy to bring it to the Legislature, although he wasn’t sure it furthered the intent of the voters.That is required for laws that make changes to voter-approved measures such as the minimum wage.

“Major League Baseball is a major component of Arizona’s commerce and tourism,” Shope said. He said any business that relies on tourism is grateful for the minor league system in Arizona and the tourism it generates.

Shope said he told the league that it would take a lot of effort to change the state’s minimum wage laws. In addition to furthering the intent of voters, changing the minimum wage rules would take approval of three-fourths of the Legislature to be sent to the governor’s desk.

“I think it’s ripe for conversation, but maybe it’s not ready for prime time and Major League Baseball will figure that out,” Shope said. “Forty-five votes is a very high number.”

There is a current case on MiLB player wages, Senne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, that has been certified as class action, with a focus on players who participated in a California league, instructional league or extended spring training. It alleges that MLB has violated minimum wage laws, and might go to trial in the coming years to address back wages. Despite the presence of minor leaguers in the lawsuit, MiLB is not a party in the proceedings.

Arizona does not have a full-season MiLB team within its borders, but 15 of MLB’s 30 teams have spring-training complexes there. Players are not paid salaries during spring training, but the complexes are used for the Rookie-level Arizona League. In addition, the state is also home to the postseason Arizona Fall League.

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