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Minor Leaguers’ unfair labor practices case against MLB goes forward

The judge's gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court

The judge’s gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East

© Chip East / Reuters

Last year former minor leaguers Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle filed a putative class action lawsuit against Major League Baseball alleging that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited and that the Uniform Player Contract unfairly takes advantage of them. Now you can take the “putative” off of that as the court handling the case has ordered conditional certification for the labor action.

What this means is that, rather than defending against these cases individually -- as Major League Baseball would much prefer -- the plaintiffs and any others they add to the case can now sue collectively. This is sort of like regular class action lawsuits in a non-labor context, but rather than the named plaintiffs including every possible plaintiff in their case with those plaintiffs being able to opt out, here the minor leaguers who wish to be part of the suit must opt-in.

Regardless, this now makes the case against baseball much more formidable, and the merits of the case have a much, much greater chance of being heard. Those merits address the claim that Major League Baseball often pays minor leaguers less than $7,500 for an entire season and requires mandatory overtime in violation of state and federal wage laws. That the Uniform Player Contract players are required to sign binds them to a team and keeps them from shopping their services elsewhere. That, though players are only paid during the season, they are required to perform duties such as training, meetings and the like all year long and their duties and obligations to the club extend on a year-round basis too.

The adjudication of those matters will come at a later time. This is, however, a significant step forward for the minor leaguers. As plaintiffs’ attorney Garrett R. Broshuis, from the Korein Tillery law firm said in a statement:

“This step is an important one for the thousands of underpaid minor leaguers toiling in MLB’s minor league system. This case seeks to change that. As a result of the Court’s order, current and former minor leaguers will have the opportunity to participate in this lawsuit and recover minimum wage and overtime for their work. Minor leaguers will receive notice via mail and email in the coming weeks.”

And we’ll keep watching.