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Three former minor leaguers file a class action suit against Major League Baseball over unfair labor practices

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From the “I’m surprised it has taken this long” department, three former minor leaguers — Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle — have filed a putative class action lawsuit against Major League Baseball alleging that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited and that the Uniform Player Contract unfairly takes advantage of them.

The upshot: excluding bonuses which only a few minor leaguers get in any real size, Major League Baseball often pays minor leaguers less than $7,500 for an entire season and requires mandatory overtime in violation of state and federal wage laws. The Uniform Player Contract they are required to sign binds them to a team and keeps them from shopping their services elsewhere. Though they are only paid during the season, they are required to perform duties such as training, meetings and the like all year long and their duties and obligations to the club extend on a year-round basis too.

I’m not labor law expert but it strikes me that there are things to talk about here. And that they system in place is less explicitly blessed by the legally system than it is merely accepted and, as far as I know, never challenged on grounds of unfair labor practices.  More general things like the draft, however, are most likely subject to the antitrust exemption.

One thing I’d be very curious to see: the minor leaguers sue the MLBPA too. For, even though they are not allowed to be members of the MLBPA nor have a seat at the bargaining table when player rights are defined, they are subject to them. Indeed, major leaguers have routinely negotiated away the rights of amateurs and minor leaguers in exchange for things that benefit them. It’s a messed up system, frankly.

It’ll be a long time before this goes anyplace. The first thing that has to happen is the certification of a class. That doesn’t always happen. And if it doesn’t, it would be let as a lawsuit by only three plaintiffs as opposed to minor leaguer in general.

Worth watching, though.

The Chicago Cubs dramatically jack up ticket prices

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The Cubs won the World Series. Now Cubs fans are going to pay through the nose for the privilege of going to games at Wrigley Field: The club has raised season ticket prices for 2017, on average, 19.5%. The rate increases range from 6% for upper deck seats to 31% for infield club seats.

As a result of the increase, the Chicago Tribune reports, a single infield box seat on the dugout for 81 games will cost $29,089.76, or $359 per game. The cheapest season ticket, for upper-deck outfield seats, is $2,139.20, or $26 per game. Those figures include tax, so it’s practically a bargain.

The Cubs cite “unprecedented demand” for tickets as the reason for the increase. That’s likely true. Cubs tickets are expensive even when they aren’t playing well due to the draw that is Wrigley Field. Indeed, for years, when the product on the field suffered, there was a sense that people would go to the ballpark just for the fun of it in ways that fans rarely if ever do for other teams. The Cubs attendance increased dramatically in 2016 and tickets often experienced an equally dramatic increase on the secondary ticket market. The Cubs would be wise to try to capture as much of that profit as they can rather than see it go to others.

Still, that’s gonna smart for people who can’t afford season tickets and who just want to go to a one-off game with the kids and exacerbates the longstanding trend of baseball tickets becoming luxury items for the well-off.

Minor League Baseball established a political action committee to fight paying players more

DURHAM, NC - JULY 28:  The Chicago White Sox play the Most Valuable Prospects during the championship game of the 2011 Breakthrough Series at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on July 28, 2011 in Durham, North Carolina.  Most Valuable Prospects won 17-2 over the Chicago White Sox. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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Josh Norris of Baseball America reports that Minor League Baseball has established a political action committee to continue fighting against a lawsuit brought by a group of former minor league players seeking increased wages and back pay.

You may recall that, earlier this year, two members of Congress — Republican Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Democrat Cheri Bustos of Illinois — introduced H.R. 5580 in the House of Representatives. Also known as the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” H.R. 5580 sought to change language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In doing so, minor leaguers wouldn’t have been covered under a law that protects workers who are paid hourly. Minor League Baseball publicly endorsed the bill. Bustos withdrew her support after receiving widespread criticism.

The whole thing started when Sergio Miranda filed a lawsuit in 2014, accusing Major League Baseball teams of colluding to eliminate competition. The lawsuit challenged the reserve clause, which binds minor leaguers into contracts with their teams for seven years. That suit was dismissed in September 2015. However, another lawsuit was filed in October last year — known as Senne vs. the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball — alleging that minor leaguers were victims of violations of state and federal minimum wage laws. Senne et. al. suffered a setback this summer when U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco dismissed class certification. That essentially meant that the players could not file a class-action lawsuit. As a result, the players’ legal team led by Garrett Broshuis amended their case to only include players who play in one league for an entire season. As Norris notes, that means that the included players’ experiences are uniform enough for inclusion in a class-action lawsuit.

So that’s why Minor League Baseball established a political action committee (PAC). A PAC, for the unfamiliar, is an organization created with the intent of raising money to defeat a particular candidate, legislation, or ballot initiative. In other words, they’re getting serious and want Capitol Hill’s help.

Minor League Baseball president Stan Brand said, “Because of procedurally what has happened in the Congress and the difficulties in getting legislation, we’ve got to adjust to that. We were lucky. We had the ability because of the depth of the relationships and involvement in the communities to not have to worry about that. And now we do, I think. The PAC . . . gives us another tool to re-enforce who we are and why we’re important.”

Norris mentions in his column that Phillies minor league outfielder Dylan Cozens received the Joe Baumann Award for leading the minors with 40 home runs. That came with an $8,000 prize. Cozens said that the prize was more than he made all season. The minor league regular season spanned from April 7 to September 5, about six months. Athletes aren’t paid in the other six months which includes offseason training and spring training. They are also not paid for participating in instructional leagues and the Arizona Fall League. Minor leaguers lack union representation, which is why their fight for fair pay has been such an uphill battle.