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MLB Backing Legislation To Exempt Minor League Players From Florida Wage Law

Major League Baseball is backing proposed legislation in Florida that would exempt minor league players from the state’s minimum wage provisions, according to a report from Jason Garcia of Seeking Rents. According to Garcia, the bill was put in front of the Florida legislature two weeks ago. It is not yet known whether it will pass the legislature and, if it does, receive the necessary approval from governor Ron DeSantis.

MLB provided a statement to both Garcia and Evan Drellich of the Athletic. The league said its intention “is merely to remove all doubt and explicitly clarify the existing Florida law, which already has stated since the early 2000’s that it follows the federal wage and hour regulations and exemptions. It serves nobody for minor league players to be treated like clock-punching workers who can only access the facilities at managed, scheduled times.”

Whether Florida’s state provision mirrors federal law matters because minor leaguers were explicitly exempted from federal minimum wage protection back in 2018. The league-backed “Save America’s Pastime Act,” passed as part of a much broader omnibus spending bill, firmly carved out players from federal minimum wage support. That act does not itself carve out an exemption from state wage protections, but MLB is pushing for a change in the wording of the Florida statute that would make clear that Florida’s provision follows the federal law.

Even if statutory wage protections were lifted, minor league players would not be without recourse in their push for higher pay. They agreed to unionize last year, with the MLB Players Association taking the lead role in negotiating the inaugural collective bargaining agreement for minor leaguers. Wages are a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. Drellich notes that collectively bargained minimum wages, once agreed upon in the still-pending minor league CBA, are likely to land higher than state laws require anyhow.

That’d perhaps make MLB’s desire for exemption from state wage protection a moot point. It’s possible exemption could give the league more leverage in CBA negotiations, although a league spokesperson told both Garcia and Drellich their efforts are “not about collective bargaining.” Rather, Drellich suggests the efforts could be better seen as protection against potential future lawsuits after the league was dealt a defeat in a California court last year.

State wage provisions were the basis for a minor league class action lawsuit that was decided upon last spring. In March, a California district court judge rejected MLB’s argument that minor leaguers were seasonal employees exempted from minimum wage protections. That judgment was justified on Arizona and Florida law. As part of that litigation, the court rejected a league argument that the “Save America’s Pastime Act” should have automatically exempted players from Florida’s state protections based on a reading of the Florida statute — one which the legislature is now considering amending in light of the court’s decision.

That ruling resulted in the awarding of back pay for previous unpaid work in Spring Training. A trial to determine the extent of damages was set for the start of June but the sides agreed to a $185MM settlement a couple weeks before it was set to get underway. That officially resolved litigation that had lasted nearly a decade.

The settlement lifted a league prohibition on teams paying minor leaguers for Spring Training work, though it did not impose any requirements on clubs to do so. That’s sure to be a discussion point in forthcoming CBA negotiations. Those began in November. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told Drellich last week the minor leagues were expected to run as scheduled even if no agreement is in place by Opening Day.

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