Major League Baseball has agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by thousands of current and former minor league players over past wage claims.
The agreement, which was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is the latest step in a general reorganization of minor league baseball that included the takeover of the minor league system by 30 major league clubs and the reduction and reorganization of teams and leagues. Now MLB will have to move to a new payout system for minor league players.
There are approximately 23,000 players in a class, and the average payout will only be around $5,000-$5,500 per player, depending on the locale’s language. It’s unlikely to be a windfall for individual players, but the real meaning of the agreement may lie in how minor league players will be compensated in the future, which will depend on MLB.
After a lot of pressure over the years, MLB has spent the last two seasons working on a process to raise salaries for minor league players, provide housing and medical care, eliminate club dues, and improve general conditions, including travel and meals.
“Change is in the air,” Garrett R. Broshuis, a former minor league pitcher with the San Francisco Giants and now a partner at Korein Tillery and a co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said in an interview Friday. “Things are getting better, and this case is a big reason. There is still a lot of work to be done, and there are people who are making sure that it gets done. The proposed resolution is a big step in the right direction.”
Under the proposed agreement, which is yet to be approved by a judge in the case, MLB must formally notify all clubs that they can no longer prohibit teams from paying players during spring training, extended spring training, or any work period that does not fall on championship season, which includes the regular season and playoffs.
In the past, players were not paid for any time spent outside the championship season, including time spent training during the off-season, and their pay, after taking into account all their time, was generally below the minimum wage. MLB argued that the players were like apprentices—in art, music, and theater, for example—temporarily seeking to break into the big leagues, where they would be richly rewarded. The average time spent in the minor leagues, according to MLB data, was approximately two and a half years, and therefore not a full-time job option.
Regardless of the validity of the argument, some have found it heartless on the part of a billion-dollar industry.
Brochuys, who is not a player, spent six years in junior high and vividly recalled the hardships of life in the minor league. He recalled how eight Latin American teammates lived in an unfurnished three-bedroom apartment with only air mattresses.
“These things are changing and that is long overdue,” Brochuys said. “We first filed this case over eight years ago and the issues were not discussed enough and went on too long. Teams now pay rent and have gotten rid of things like membership fees, which was a big problem for the players.”
Brochuys, whose firm under the terms of the settlement will receive 30 percent of the payout, or $55 million plus an additional $5 million in fees, said that without the pressure from the lawsuit, few of the changes would have been implemented. implemented.
Now that MLB is working on a new compensation system, it will be doing it unilaterally because minor league players are not represented by the Major League Baseball Players Association or any other union, and there is no bargaining unit to negotiate with. A settlement could help ensure there is no return to past inequalities, but exactly how the situation plays out for minor league players can be very tricky, especially with teams in a number of states.
Hourly pay can be difficult to implement because players spend so much time in the stadium playing, training, traveling and relaxing. Most players work hard to prepare for a major league career and may object to hourly limits on the time they can spend in practice.
“We are in our second year of overhauling the 100-year-old player development system and have made great strides in improving the quality of life for minor league players,” an MLB spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re proud that minor league players are already enjoying significant benefits.”
These include $450 million in annual freshman player bonuses, college tuition assistance, and meals.
With the shrinking of the minor leagues, there are fewer players to be paid. The settlement is worth approximately $6.2 million for a major league club.
“We are pleased that we were able to come to a decision,” the statement said, “but we cannot comment on the details until the agreement is formally approved by the court.”