The Poverty Wages of Minor League Baseball Players
While owners made billions, minor leaguers are making less than minimum wage
April is here and with it comes the beginning of the baseball season. For players both in the Major Leagues and the Minor Leagues, the beginning of the season also means getting paid for the first time in months. While this first paycheck may not matter much for players like Francisco Lindor who just inked a $341 Million contract, for minor league players, it is needed money, since many have spent the last 6 months or so working for free for the team.
Unlike players in the MLB or players on the 40-man roster, minor leaguers are not part of a union and are not covered under a collective bargaining agreement. This means that the billionaire owners that own the franchises subsidize the big MLB contracts with poverty wages for players in the minors. Even with big raises coming in 2021, the minimum salary in Class A ball is just $500 a week, $600 a week in Double-A, and in Triple-A it's just $700 a week. Players are also only paid during the season, so at best they will get about 21 paychecks between April and early September. That means that the minimum salary in Single-A is just $10,500 and in Triple-A it's $14,700, even though these players are just an injury away from becoming a Major Leaguer.
These low salaries have become a major issue as Major League Baseball reorganized the minor league system following the cancellation of the 2020 season. 40 teams were cut, allowing players to get paid more, but the players still argue that the amount they are being paid is significantly less than the work they do. While they are only paid during the season, the players are expected to stay in game shape during the offseason including playing in instructional leagues for which they are not paid for. Players are also not paid during Spring Training, nor are they compensated for time spent on the bus traveling to their next game, let alone promotional appearances that the team may have them participate in during the offseason. While players in the MLB travel via charted jet, minor leaguers often take buses sometimes on trips that are ten to twelve hours. Players are also required to pay “clubhouse fees” that help cover the cost of clubhouse staff, making their take home pay even smaller. On top of this, a minor league players chances of making the majors are extremely small. Only about 10% of players ever make a Major League roster, meaning that the vast majority of players will never see the big paychecks that might make years of struggle in the minors worth it.
“Guys living either sleeping on some stranger’s futon at a host family’s house, or they’re cramming six guys into a three-bedroom apartment trying to split rent as many ways as possible,” said Garrett Broshuis, a former minor league player who now practices law in St. Louis and has been leading legal challenges for the players.
The low pay issue seems to have come to a head after a 2018 law was passed called the Save America’s Pastime Act. This law was buried in an omnibus spending bill and stripped minor league players of minimum wage protections. The law said that even though players routinely work more than 60 hours a week, teams only had to pay them a minimum wage for 40 hours a week.
When lobbying for the bill, teams told Congress that without an exemption to the minimum wage rule, minor league baseball would cease to exist. Yet, in 2019 MLB generated $1.2 billion in profit and $10.7 billion in total revenue. Baseball owners also have a combined wealth of over $75 billion. While they are living it up, flying private jets to their mansions, minor leaguers are driving DoorDash or Uber after games so that they can afford to sleep on a fan's couch.
According to a More Perfect Union, minor league baseball players' salaries are significantly behind the salaries paid to NBA G League players and AHL players.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, Broshuis has filed a class-action lawsuit along with other former players. Their case is making its way through the courts as the players ask for a simple request, comply with the same wage and hour rules that other businesses have to follow.
"The ultimate goal is pretty simple: to get MLB to comply with the same laws that Walmart and McDonald's comply with," said Broshuis. "Whenever they ask players to go to spring training, they should be paying their employees for it. During a season, there's no reason for players to be making $7,500 or $8,000 a year."