Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Minor League advocate calls for protection from MLB’s antitrust exemption in response to U.S. Senators

Four members of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee issued a letter to Harry Marino, the executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, on June 28 requesting insight on the impact Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption has on facets of the game, according to The Athletic.

The letter seeks information on work stoppages; minor-league contraction; and the shady dynamics of the international free-agent market, and is signed by four senators: chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and ranking member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), as well as Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). 

“Minor League players are far and away the group most negatively impacted by baseball’s antitrust exemption,” Marino said in a statement to The Athletic. “MLB owners should not have a special license to underpay their workers. We are confident that Congress will recognize as much through this process and, ultimately, repeal baseball’s antitrust exemption as it relates to issues concerning Minor League players.”

The letter comes just a month after the 100-year anniversary of MLB’s antitrust exemption, which allowed it to serve as a legalized monopoly by making it immune to the Sherman Act. MLB’s antitrust exemption was granted on the (admittedly confusing) grounds that the league isn’t interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has since ruled to uphold MLB’s antitrust exemption, including in 1972 as it pertained to Curt Flood’s quest for free agency.

On Wednesday, Marino issued a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership calling for a bill shielding minor leaguers from MLB’s antitrust exemption, which would create a path to higher salaries and better workplace conditions. 

“It is only a matter of time until the MLB owners inform us that they intend to take a wrecking ball to our national game once more,” Marino wrote in Thursday’s letter. “As we sit here today, another round of Minor League contraction — fewer players and more devastated communities — appears inevitable. The owners have already indicated as much to those who are paying attention.”  

Part of the antitrust exemption was stripped away in 1998, when then-President Bill Clinton signed the Curt Flood Act into law. The Flood Act removed a labor relations portion from the exemption; alas, that impacted only major-league players, who are protected in part by a union, the MLB Players Association. Minor-league players are not part of the MLBPA, and have no union of their own.

MLB’s antitrust exemption has become a hot-button topic in recent years. The league successfully lobbied congress with the Save America’s Pastime Act, a measure that exempted minor-league players from federal laws concerning minimum wage and overtime pay. The league then turned around and reorganized the minor-league system, removing the affiliate status from more than 40 teams.

Last December, four of those teams filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the commissioner’s office had violated the Sherman Act.

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