Minor league baseball players have filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in U.S. District Court, alleging that the league is violating federal law requiring fair wages and overtime, thus forcing “many minor leaguers to live in poverty.”

The class action suit, brought on behalf of minor leaguers for all 30 Major League teams, alleges violations of federal law requiring fair wages and overtime. Filed in February, and twice expanded ahead of a September hearing, Senne vs. MLB portrays minor league baseball players as the game’s exploited underclass. They toil year-round with no overtime, unpaid extra assignments, and no right to switch teams or renegotiate, the lawsuit alleges. In exchange, they get a maximum starting salary of $5,500—a sum far below minimum wage.
“No one is saying that minor leaguers should be getting rich,” says Garrett Broshuis, a minor league baseball player turned attorney who helped build the case. “But if McDonald’s and Wal-Mart can pay a minimum wage, then Major League Baseball can too.”

According to NBC News, Major League Baseball denied all the charges in court documents filed in late May, arguing that baseball is more of a pastime than a job. “If a judge agrees, it could mean that the team owners — like the owners of water slides in summer and Christmas displays in winter — are exempt from the need to pay a federal minimum wage. Baseball player, in other words, is no more a career than mall Santa,” NBC’s Tony Dokoupil wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held an interesting view of baseball’s place in society, which could complicate the minor leaguers’ argument.

To make the matter murkier still, the Supreme Court has considered baseball to be a matter of amusement, not commerce. In 1922, in a case that gave Major League Baseball the right to act as a monopoly, exempt from antitrust laws, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes argued that the sport, “although made for money, would not be called trade of commerce.”
That decision was upheld in 1972, with Harry Blackmun issuing what was perhaps one of the most mocked opinions in the high court’s history. It included “a juvenile, rhapsodic ode to the glories of the national pastime, sprinkled with comments about legendary ballplayers and references to the doggerel poem, ‘Casey at the Bat,'” according to the Rutgers University historian David Greenberg.

The minor leaguers are alleging a number of violations in their lawsuit:

— “MLB’s longstanding exemption from the United States’ antitrust laws allows it to openly collude on the working conditions for the development of its chief commodity: young baseball players.”

— “MLB continues to actively and openly collude on many aspects of minor leaguers’ working conditions, including, but not limited to, wages, contract terms, drug testing, and discipline. For example, while major leaguers’ salaries have increased by more than 2,000 percent since 1976, monr leaguers’ salaries have, on average, increased only 75 percent since that time. Meanwhile inflation has risen by more than 400 percent over that same time period.”

— “Through this collective exercise of power, MLB has suppressed minor leaguers’ wages in violation of federal and state law. Most minor leaguers earn between around $3,000 and $7,500 for the entire year despite routinely working over 50 hours per week (and sometimes 70 hours per week) during the roughly five-month championship season. They receive no overtime pay, and instead routinely receive less than minimum wage during the championship season.”

— “Worse still, the Defendants have conspired to pay now ages at all for significant periods of minor leaguers’ work. Consisten with MLB’s rules, the Defendants do not pay minor leaguers their salaries during spring training, even though the Defendants require minor leaguers to ofter wok over fifty hours per week during spring training.”