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July 10, 2014

Ex-minor leaguers sue MLB over low salaries

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Like many young baseball players, Aaron Senne dreamed of fame and fortune when he signed his first contract as a Miami Marlins' draft choice after a record-breaking college career at Missouri.

Reality as a low-level minor leaguer was far different: vending machine dinners, bug-infested apartments and a paltry salary with an equivalent hourly wage less than what fast-food workers make.

Senne and former minor-league players in each of the 30 big-league organizations are suing Major League Baseball, alleging violations of federal wage and overtime laws in a case some legal observers suggest has significant merit. They are seeking class-action status on behalf of the estimated 6,000 ballplayers who toil each summer in outposts stretching from Bluefield, Virginia, to Bakersfield, California, as well as an unspecified amount of back pay.

"You come from high school or college where you're not making anything and you just think, 'I'm getting paid to play baseball. I'll chase my dream,'" said Senne, who retired last year after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2011, one year after the Marlins paid him a $25,000 signing bonus as a 10th round pick. "You get that first paycheck and you do a double take. It's an eye opener."

In Senne's case, that first check from the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers, a short-season Class A affiliate, was for $1,100 a month — maximum scale for all first-year players, who typically sign seven-year contracts — and $25 a day in meal money. At his peak, he earned $7,000 in 2012, but like all minor-leaguers, wasn't paid at all during spring training or for his offseason conditioning work.

Federal antitrust exemptions have largely protected pro baseball from comparable legal challenges. But in this case, the 32 plaintiffs recruited by attorney Garrett Broshuis — another former minor-leaguer from Mizzou who went to law school after six seasons in the San Francisco Giants' organization — allege violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a 1938 law that stipulates a minimum wage for workers and requires overtime for most employees who work more than 40 hours weekly.

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