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By Chris Opfer
July 1 — A House Democrat has found herself in a bit of a pickle over legislation that would block wage and hour protections for baseball players toiling in the national pastime's lower rungs.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) June 30 withdrew her support for the Save America's Pastime Act (H.R. 5580), just six days after signing on to the measure as a co-sponsor. The legislation would exempt minor league baseball players from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Lobbyists for minor league baseball clubs have been pushing Congress for the exemption since at least last year. Bustos said she changed her mind after hearing “several concerns” about her support for a measure that would erode wage and hour protections.
“Whether it’s on the factory floor, in classrooms or on the playing fields of one of America’s revered traditions, I strongly support raising the minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining for fair wages, and I believe that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they do,” Bustos said in a statement posted to her website.
The snafu highlights a central disagreement in Congress about whether small businesses and other employers can afford Democrat-backed moves to raise the federal wage floor and expand eligibility for overtime pay. Bustos's double take reflects Democrats' concerns that new exemptions could swallow the general rules that workers must be paid at least $7.25 an hour and time-and-a-half wages for all hours beyond 40 each week.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), comes as MLB and some of its teams are mired in litigation over claims by players who say they were paid as little as $3,000 for five months of work ( Senne v. Office of the Comm'r of Baseball, N.D. Cal., No. 3:14-cv-00608).
The players allege they regularly worked 50 to 70 hours per week during the season. They also say they were required to participate in off-season training and instructional sessions without compensation.
MLB clubs field six teams at various levels in the minor league system, controlling all decisions about which of their players are assigned to each team. Minor league teams are owned independently and enter into affiliation agreements with big league clubs, under which MLB teams agree to pay all player salaries and expenses and the minor league teams foot the bills for operation and marketing costs.
Professional baseball organizations generally maintain that they fall under the FLSA's “amusement or recreational establishment” exemption, under which a business that operates for seven months or less per year or generates the bulk of its income over a six-month period isn't bound by the law's minimum wage and overtime requirements.
A patchwork of rulings has left the issue mostly undecided and has spurred the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues to lobby Congress for a specific exemption.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department recently resisted calls to soften the blow for small businesses and nonprofit groups in DOL's new overtime rule (RIN:1235-AA11). The rule, which takes effect in December, is expected to make more than 4 million additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half pay.
Guthrie told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail July 1 that Bustos's office informed him about her change of heart earlier the same day.
“I was looking forward to working with Cheri, but I respect her decision,” Guthrie said. “I have always tried to make every piece of legislation I introduce bipartisan and am ready to continue to work on this issue when I return to Washington.”
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Text of the bill is available at http://src.bna.com/gra.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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