Minor league baseball players are specifically exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime requirements – but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from California’s wage and hour law system.
Indeed, a federal magistrate judge in Northern California recently ruled that the players are employees under California law, and that means they must be paid a minimum wage and overtime. The case is ongoing. Major League Baseball, which oversees 120 minor league teams, argues that the players should be considered part-time seasonal apprentices.
How little do these players make?
Are they, indeed, working part time for a season as apprentices? According to Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, most minor league players make less than $15,000 a year. They sign a seven-year contract with Major League Baseball and are only paid during the baseball season. Players describe having to sleep in their cars, borrow money, or skimp on food to afford the season – and many work other jobs during the off-season.
However, players say that the job is really year-round. At the very least, if they hope to advance to a major league team, the players need to stay in shape year round. It takes a lot of dedication to be a contender for major league play – and Major League Baseball brings in billions in revenue each year.
Recently, state Senator Josh Becker, who represents parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, introduced a bill called the “Minor League Baseball Players’ Bill of Rights.” If passed, the bill would shorten the contract period from seven to four years and allow players to negotiate their wages based on market value. It would also allow minor leaguers to profit from endorsements and autograph activities.
It appears to be the first law in the nation that would extend some job protections to minor league baseball players, but other state lawmakers are watching.
So is Major League Baseball. In 2021, MLB raised Class A players’ minimum weekly salaries from a shocking $290 to $500 during the season, and Triple-A salaries from $502 to $700. It also mandated that minor league teams provide housing for most players. A spokesperson for Advocates for Minor Leaguers said of this that “a Band-Aid would be an overstatement.”
Will California pass meaningful reforms?
Between the federal court case and the Minor League Baseball Players’ Bill of Rights, California stands on the precipice. If minor leaguers are employees, not seasonal apprentices, they could be entitled to make at least $14 an hour plus overtime.
It’s still unclear how their hours would be calculated, considering that they are often required to take long trips for road games and to spend hours working out each day. Traveling for work and doing required activities could be considered work hours, and those hours could tally up quickly.
Minor leaguers appear to be making less than a livable wage. Will MLB step up, or will the law need to change?
Leigh Law Group represents workers in wage and hour cases throughout California.