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Judge rules in favor of MiLB players, deeming them MLB employees

MiLBA California judge ruled that minor league players are year-round employees and those who earlier played in California, Arizona and Florida are entitled to back pay and payment for travel and spring-training time.

Senne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball has been working its way through the court system since 2014, narrowed and expanded at various times regarding a class-action status, finally settling on a path covering California, Arizona and Florida MiLB players. It was further scaled back after Congress passed the Save America’s Pastime Act in March 2018, exempting players from overtime regulations.

In a 181-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Spero rules minor-league players playing in the California League and attending spring training, extended spring training and instructional league play in Arizona and Florida were subject to back pay. In addition, he ruled that MiLB players are full-time employees “throughout the calendar year”, with MLB and teams liable for $1,882,650 in penalties generated because of incomplete record-keeping. In addition, he ruled under California law that travel time must count as payable time for California League players, as well as spring training in both Florida and Arizona under certain circumstances (i.e., if players were required to participate in scheduled activities before traveling). Still to be decided: damages under Arizona state minimum wage law, subject to triple damages. The rulings were a result of pretrial motions; a full trial is set for June 1.

Currently, as well as historically, MLB and MiLB players are not paid a salary for spring training, with paychecks issued after the beginning of the season.

The centerpiece of Spero’s ruling concerns the status of players not as apprentices or creatives, but rather as full-time employees. (Summer-collegiate players, by the way, are technically interns under the eyes of the NCAA, but do receive some state protections when applicable, such as workers comp.)

“These are not students who have enrolled in a vocational school with the understanding that they would perform services, without compensation, as part of the practical training necessary to compete the training and obtain a license,” Spero wrote.

No response yet from MLB, but one was issued by Advocates for Minor Leaguers:

“For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages. Working as a professional baseball player requires far more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of year-round training, practice, and preparation, for which we have never been properly compensated.

“We are thrilled with today’s ruling, which is an enormous step toward holding MLB accountable for its longstanding mistreatment of minor league players.”

At one point MLB officials warned that increases in MiLB pay could lead to a further reduction in the number of minor league teams, but things are different since the lawsuit was filed and MiLB was contracted to 120 teams. After the passage of Save America’s Pastime Act, many of the claims in the original player lawsuit were dismissed and since then MLB has raised MiLB salaries and pledged to house players for the season. With a June 1 trial date scheduled, we could see a potential settlement–talks are reportedly scheduled for April 13-14–if MLB decides it’s most cost-effective to settle rather than assuming the costs of a full trial.

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