NEW YORK (AP) — The executive director of the nonprofit Advocates for Minor Leaguers has recommended that Congress pass legislation voiding Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption as it applies to minor league players.
Harry Marino on Wednesday asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to pursue a “minor league flood law” in response to a letter from the four-member panel chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). The letter, sent by the committee on June 28, asks the advocacy group about the effect of baseball’s 100-year-old antitrust exemption on labor conditions in the minor leagues.
Applying antitrust laws to the hiring of minor league players could allow them to seek free agency earlier, strengthening their leverage to demand better wages and other working conditions.
Marino’s letter to Congress was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
Advocates for Minor Leaguers has pushed in recent years for improved pay, housing and other employment standards for players, who typically make between $4,800 and $15,400 a year.
These players are subject to uniform player contracts when they enter professional baseball, preventing them from becoming minor league free agents for seven seasons. Marino argued that these UPCs prevent players from seeking wages above the league’s MLB-mandated minimums, ranging from $400 to $700 per week, paid only during the season.
The Curt Flood Act of 1998, which President Bill Clinton signed, applied antitrust laws to MLB affecting the hiring of major league players.
Marino argued that the minor league flood law would threaten the legality of the minor league UPC.
“Once selected, players will be able to negotiate the length and terms of their initial minor league contracts with their major league teams,” Marino wrote.
Because baseball’s amateur draft and international signing period are covered by collective bargaining agreements with the major league players’ association, those structures will remain even with the Minor League Flood Act. But it’s unclear how the sport’s minor league system will function if players are released from the UPC.
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Contracts at the major league level are governed by rules negotiated collectively between MLB and the players’ association. There is no lower level union.
In its June 28 letter, the committee also asked Marino about the effects of repealing the Save America Entertainment Act, a provision included on page 1,967 of the 2018 $1.3 trillion spending bill that exempts players from secondary leagues from federal minimum wage requirements. The bill was an attempt to preempt a lawsuit filed four years earlier by players who claimed MLB was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The case was settled in April. Two people familiar with the negotiations, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details were not authorized, said the possible settlement was in the $200 million range. The two sides have asked a federal court in California for permission to file papers by July 11 to approve the settlement.
In its original letter, the commission noted that MLB argued that the Save America Entertainment Act was “necessary to prevent minor league shrinkage.” Despite the drop, MLB is still withdrawing membership from 40 of its 160 teams after the 2020 season.
Marino recommended that Congress repeal the Save America Entertainment Act, which “would have allowed minor league players to sue under federal minimum wage and overtime laws.”
The other committee members who sent the letter to Marino in June are Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut; and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Baseball’s antitrust exemption was created by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1922 case involving the Federal League, when Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in a decision that baseball was not interstate commerce, but exhibition, exempt from antitrust laws. The Supreme Court reaffirmed the ruling in a 1953 case involving New York Yankees farmhand George Toulson and in a 1972 decision in the Kurt Flood case, saying any changes must come from Congress.
Perhaps the biggest impact of the exemption is that it allows MLB to prevent a franchise from moving to another city without MLB’s permission. Marino noted that passage of the Minor League Curt Flood Act would have a “more limited impact” than a complete repeal of MLB’s antitrust exemption.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a statement of interest last month in a lawsuit brought by four minor league teams, urging that “lower courts should limit the “baseball exemption” to conduct that is central to the business of offering professional baseball.” games of the public.” The lawsuit, filed by teams that lost their major league affiliation when MLB cut the minors before the 2021 season, is pending in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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