Minor leaguers suing Major League Baseball over unfair labor prospects got some good news last night: their case, which was originally a class action lawsuit, but then decertified as a class action last summer, has once again been certified as a class action by the trial judge.
The background: in 2014, former Miami Marlins player Aaron Senne sued Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, and three major league clubs claiming that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He was later joined by former Royals minor leaguer Michael Liberto and Giants farmhand Oliver Odle. Eventually others joined and the suit had been expanded to 22 teams as defendants.
The upshot of the case is that, while the minor league season lasts only part of the year, players are required to do all sorts of things outside of merely playing games for which they are not compensated. Training, meetings, appearances and the like. When all of that time is added up, the players claim, their already low salaries are effectively far below minimum wage in violation of the law. Major League Baseball has countered this by claiming that minor leaguers are basically part time seasonal workers — like landscapers and pool boys — who are not subject to federal labor laws.
In 2015, the judge handling the case gave the plaintiffs conditional certification, allowing the players to try to establish that it should go forward as a class action. This would streamline the case from the plaintiffs’ perspective and give them the power of collective action by asserting hundreds or more similar cases into one proceeding. Last July, however, the judge reversed his ruling, saying that the cases really weren’t factually similar and thus collective action was not appropriate because figuring out how many hours each player worked and what was required of him varied too greatly among the players. That was a big setback.
For the past several months, discovery has continued. And now, today, after reviewing more evidence and hearing more arguments, the judge recertified a narrower class. The exact composition of the class is yet to be determined, but it will likely include minor leaguers who worked in the California League since 2010. That could affect as many as 2,100 former minor leaguers who played between 2010 and 2015.
There is still a lot of work to be done — the parties will now work on a case schedule, which could still extend years — but the work of getting fair wages for minor leaguers presses on. And the longer it presses on and the closer it gets to resolution, the more pressure it puts on Major League Baseball to change the way it approaches its minor league workforce.