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Minnesota Legislature

House labor panel OKs minimum wage exemption for minor league baseball players

CHS Field, Home of the minor league baseball St. Paul Saints, in St. Paul. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Whollyatheist/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Major League Baseball players can earn millions of dollars. Minor league baseball players chasing their dreams of one day also earning those millions, earn less. A lot less.

Pardon the pun, but the two salary levels are not even in the same ballpark.

The House Labor Committee debated Wednesday whether that was fair, especially because, if paid by the hour, a typical minor leaguer would earn less than minimum wage.

HF2543, sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul), would change state law to exempt minor league baseball players from employment laws setting minimum wage and overtime rules.

The committee approved the bill 12-2 and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee. The companion, SF1526, is sponsored by Sen. Michael Goggin (R-Red Wing) and is awaiting action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.

Tom Whaley, an executive with the St. Paul Saints, testifies before the House Labor Committee in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney, left, to exempt minor league baseball players from wage and overtime requirements. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The bill would make state law consistent with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended in 2018 by the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” said Mahoney. It would also bring state law in alignment with St. Paul’s $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance. That’s because both measures exempt employers from paying minimum wage to baseball players who are paid a salary under contract and on a team’s roster.

Paying minor league baseball players by the hour “would be unprecedented,” said Tom Whaley, executive vice president of the St. Paul Saints, part of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. The high cost of doing so would force the team out of business, he said.

[WATCH Committee debate on the bill]

The league’s salary cap is $125,000 per team for the 2019 season. Each team can have a maximum 23 players on its roster.

The federal act and the City of Saint Paul rightly recognize that minor league baseball players fit into the exempt “artistic and creative professionals” category of individuals who are trainees or apprentices, Whaley said.

“It has been settled law and policy in this country that professional athletes are not paid hourly,” he said.

Offering a counterpoint to that point of view was Bill McCarthy, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

“Whether you are tending bar or playing minor league baseball, all working people deserve to earn at least the minimum wage in the communities where they work,” he said.

McCarthy also said the change would set a “troubling precedent,” because it could prompt other employers to request minimum wage and overtime exemptions.

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