Two members of Congress introduced legislation this week that would protect minor league baseball teams from having to pay their players the federal minimum wage.
The new bill, dramatically dubbed the Save America's Pastime Act and introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), would amend the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to specifically exempt minor leaguers from overtime and minimum wage standards that apply to most workers.
Guthrie and Bustos say the legislation will help save minor league teams from the "dramatic" impact of having to pay their players the minimum wage.
“If the law is not clarified, the costs to support local teams would likely increase dramatically and usher in significant cuts across the league, threatening the primary pathway to the Majors and putting teams at risk,” Guthrie said in a release. “The impact on teams could also have a significant, negative economic impact on businesses and workers that rely on Minor League baseball.”
MiLB players' salaries haven't kept up with overall inflation in the U.S. Last year, USA Today reported that players were making just 75 percent more than they did in 1976 -- but that over the same period of time, inflation had gone up more than 400 percent.
The new bill comes on the heels of a California lawsuit that former minor leaguers filed in 2014 against Major League Baseball and its clubs, alleging violations of federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws.
The suit says that many players earn less than $7,500 per season, and that their pay does not meet minimum wage standards when adjusted on an hourly basis. The players also claim that they do not receive overtime compensation for work that falls outside their contract or normal pay, such as spring training.
In October, a federal judge preliminarily allowed the lawsuit to proceed as a collective action claim that other players could join.
MiLB suggested in a press release the changes outlined in the bill were imperative to its preservation. The California suit, the statement reads, “threatens baseball’s decades-old player development system with an unprecedented cost increase, which would jeopardize ... the very existence of Minor League Baseball itself.”
Despite these dire forecasts, how big an impact the litigation could have on MiLB teams is unclear, especially because major league clubs pay the salaries of players at the minor league levels. Some baseball observers, meanwhile, have suggested that increasing pay could actually improve the development and talent level at baseball's lower levels.
The Class-A Bowling Green Hot Rods, one of three MiLB teams in Kentucky, are based in Guthrie’s district. Bustos’ district includes the Class-A Peoria Chiefs; the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits play in nearby Davenport, Iowa.
Representatives from the Chiefs, Hot Rods and AAA Louisville Bats also thanked the lawmakers, hammering home the belief that paying players the minimum wage could threaten the future of baseball.
"Should the California litigation be successful, teams like the Louisville Bats, Bowling Green Hot Rods, and Lexington Legends may well disappear," Bats President Gary Ulmer said in the release.
Guthrie has opposed efforts to increase the federal minimum wage in the past.
Bustos, however, has been an ardent supporter of increasing the federal minimum wage, and in 2014 backed legislation that would boost the hourly rate to $10.10.
“We think that’s the right thing to do, to lift families out of poverty,” she said at a campaign stop that year.