A federal court in San Francisco is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on whether to grant a request by Major League Baseball to move a class-action lawsuit from California to Florida.

The lawsuit, filed a year ago on behalf of former minor-league players, claims that MLB routinely pays minor leaguers less than minimum wage and ignores overtime, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Among the plaintiffs is former Sea Dogs infielder Ryan Khoury, who played last summer for the independent Wichita Wingnuts, a team in the American Association not affiliated with any major league franchise.

Portland’s executive vice president/general manager, Geoff Iacuessa, said the team has no official position on the lawsuit.

“We, like everybody in baseball, are curiously watching,” he said. “Depending on which way it goes, it certainly will have an impact on Minor League Baseball and the franchises.”

At baseball’s recent winter meetings in San Diego in early December, Stan Brand, Minor League Baseball’s vice president who represents the industry on Capitol Hill, delivered an impassioned speech warning that the lawsuit threatens the existence of the minors, and that MiLB plans to help lobby Congress to change a provision of the FLSA.


In a phone interview from his office in Washington, D.C., Brand said minor league ballplayers should be viewed as “trainees or seasonal employees, or some variety of what is already exempted in the law.”

Current law lists 35 occupations – including babysitters and newspaper delivery drivers – not required to receive minimum wage or overtime pay.

“This isn’t a career for all these guys, it’s a tryout, it’s an opportunity,” Brand said. “It’s not like going on the shop floor and working in a factory for 30 years. The vast majority of players will not go on a (major league) 40-man roster.”

Garrett Broshuis, a former pitcher in the San Francisco Giants system who spent four of his six professional seasons in the Eastern League and reached as high as Triple A, is the lawyer spearheading the suit. He said Brand’s comments are off base and that players must train year-round in order to move up the ladder of pro baseball.

Surely, he said, in an industry that generates $9 billion per year, there is enough money for minor leaguers to eat properly, afford a reasonable rent and not be forced into debt in order to follow their dream.

“The major league teams … pay the salaries of the minor league players and the minor league coaches,” Broshuis said from his office in St. Louis. “Minor league teams, their main responsibility is operating the stadium. It’s really kind of an absurd position for Minor League Baseball to take.”


The milb.com website says players in their first pro season make a maximum salary of $1,100 per month. That salary, Broshuis said, does not include spring training and only runs from Opening Day until the end of the season, making it worth $5,500 annually. The federal poverty level for a single person is $11,670, or twice as much.

The New York Mets recently made news when it emerged that minor leaguers were being charged – by a personal trainer affiliated with the team – to work out at the team’s facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida, in advance of spring training.

Broshuis called such an arrangement “the complete opposite of what should be happening. When training is part of your job, your employer should be paying you for it.”

With a trial date set for February 2017, any resolution is a long way off. Major League Baseball filed a 78-page response denying all charges. Broshuis said he is awaiting documents requested as part of the discovery phase.

Since 1976, the lawsuit contends, salaries for major leaguers have jumped 2,500 percent and inflation is up more than 400 percent. Over the same period, minor league pay is up only 75 percent.

Meanwhile, franchise values continue to rise. Last summer, a Single-A franchise in Dayton, Ohio, sold for a reported $40 million and a Double-A franchise in Frisco, Texas, for $32 million.


“Both of those sales are really top-end franchises,” said Iacuessa, citing Dayton’s sellout streak of more than 1,000 consecutive games.

“A team like the Portland Sea Dogs,” Broshuis said, “which is close to your MLB affiliate (the Boston Red Sox) and draws well, it’s worth a lot more today than it was 15 years ago.”

Broshuis said his ultimate goal is to establish a union for minor league baseball players – which minor league hockey players have accomplished. Minimum salary in the American Hockey League, which includes the Portland Pirates, is $42,375.

“It will certainly be a tough effort,” Broshuis said. “I’ve had guys reach out to me, and hopefully success in this lawsuit will embolden guys and help them realize there is a benefit to acting collectively.”

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