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Wait, a bunch of DFLers just voted to exempt some of Minnesota’s lowest-paid workers from the minimum wage?

MinnPost file photo by Corey Anderson
The cap for the upcoming St. Paul Saints season is just $125,000 for 22 players.

Well, that was awkward.

On Thursday, a DFL-controlled committee passed a bill sponsored by the DFL chair of the House Jobs and Economic Development subcommittee and the House Labor Committee to exempt some of the lowest-paid workers in the state from minimum wage law and overtime laws.

These workers earn as little as $1,700 a month for just four months a year, yet their employer requested an exemption from laws that would pay them barely $10 an hour. The committee approved the exemption over the objections of the president of the state’s largest labor organization.

So who are these workers?

They are the 22 athletes who suit up for the St. Paul Saints, the minor league baseball team that plays home games at the heavily public subsidized CHS Field, 1.2 miles away from the state Capitol.

The state exemption would be the third granted by various levels of government after minor league players brought a pair of class-action lawsuits that argued that they should get minimum wage and overtime while playing for teams far from the glamour and salaries of Major League Baseball.

In 2018, Congress passed the Save America’s Pastime Act, which categorized minor league players as apprentices, exempting them from wage and hour laws. More recently, the St. Paul City Council exempted Saints players from the city’s minimum wage ordinance. That leaves the state.

“There are not a lot of things in life, love or politics where Mayor Melvin Carter and President Donald Trump would agree on things, but they agree on this,” said Tom Whaley, executive vice president and part owner of the Saints.

Whaley told the committee that the Saints are part of the American Association, a 12-team independent league that is sometimes called a Second Chance League. The players are usually athletes who were drafted by major league teams but released before making the big team. Playing for the Saints is part of their hope of proving themselves again and perhaps getting resigned by an American or National League team. In the 26-year history of the team, 21 players have been signed to major league contracts and 130 have moved on to affiliated minor league teams.

State Rep. Tim Mahoney, Tom Whaley of the Saints, and Bill McCarthy of the AFL-CIO speaking before the House Labor Committee.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Rep. Tim Mahoney, Tom Whaley of the Saints, and Bill McCarthy of the AFL-CIO speaking before the House Labor Committee.
The league’s team members agree to a salary cap, both to control costs and to maintain competitive balance. The cap for the upcoming season is just $125,000 for 22 players. Teams that exceed the cap can be fined and ultimately expelled from the league.

The St. Paul minimum wage applies to all other workers in the stadium, from concession workers to grounds crew. That means that many of the support staff earn more money than the players.

Opposing the bill to exempt the ball players, House File 2443, was Bill McCarthy, the president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “The state of Minnesota should not be in the practice of cutting any worker’s wages and overtime pay,” McCarthy said. “Whether you are tending bar or playing minor league baseball, all working people deserve to earn at least the minimum wage.”

McCarthy said he was also worried about the precedent. “If passed, this could open up the floodgates to other employers requesting exemptions to the minimum wage and overtime laws. How would the Legislature decide which employers deserve an exemption from overtime laws and how would you decide which workers don’t deserve minimum wage or overtime pay?”

He also questioned why the players should be subject to a league salary cap that they had no say in, did not negotiate and can’t reject. He told committee members they had a choice: “If you support strong labor standards in our state, you will oppose this bill.”

All of which put the DFLers on the committee in something of a bind. Most considered themselves strong labor supporters, and the House DFL caucus supports a higher state minimum wage. But the prime sponsor said he has been told the team would be forced out of the league and the stadium — which was built with more than $50 million in state and local tax dollars — if the exemption weren’t given.

“If we play politics with this, it’s a sad day for St. Paul,” said Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, a retired union pipefitter.

Ultimately the bill passed 12-2 with the two no votes coming from Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Jay Xiong, DFL-St. Paul. But two Republicans who voted yes did so after first passing (Rep. Bob Vogel of Elko New Market) or voting no (Rep. Bob Dettmer of Forest Lake).

Afterward, Hornstein said he voted no out of principle. “If we start setting a precedent for carving things out, anyone can have that excuse to not pay their workers a fair, living wage,” he said. “I do believe that once you open the door, then every industry is going to make up an excuse.”

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/28/2019 - 10:54 am.

    Gross. Props to Hornstein and Xiong for voting against this nonsense.

    • Submitted by Gary Derong on 03/29/2019 - 02:33 pm.

      In the grand scheme of minor league baseball, it’s not nonsense. Although the Saints play in an independent league not affiliated with Major League Baseball, their league models and markets itself as Double-A quality — in their case, AA also stands for American Association. And the American Association is following the affiliated MiLB pay scale, which is $1,700 a month for first-year Double-A players, rising by $100 a month for every year of seniority. If the Saints broke ranks and were expelled by the league, their ballpark probably would become the home of a Northwoods League team. That’s a league of college players who are paid nothing but make money for franchisees on ticket, food and beer sales. In fact, the newest team, the St. Croix River Hounds, is debuting this season at the site of the former Hudson dog track and is operated by former Saints general manager Bill Fanning. So where do you draw the line on salaries — and on the definitions of work and play — when young men accept the hardships of chasing their dream?

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/29/2019 - 03:59 pm.

        No, its complete nonsense. And the affiliated minor league team pay scale is an even bigger pile of nonsense – its a multi-billion-dollar organization that is paying players sub-minimum wages.

        Where so you draw the line on salaries? I know exactly where – at the required minimum wage, no less.

        • Submitted by Gary Derong on 03/30/2019 - 11:38 am.

          Nobody is willing to take up the fight for minor leaguers because the national minimum wage is $7.25, and there is no minor league union and no incentive for MLB to change. The minors were in severe decline until mid-size cities started to realize entertainment value from well-appointed ballparks, cheap labor, schlocky between-innings sideshows and food, drink and apparel options that rival those of major league teams. And a notch below the professional minors are the burgeoning no-salary college leagues, the Cape Cod and our very own Northwoods, whose franchises can be found in cities as large as Madison, Wis. Our nation has become saturated with minor league baseball teams while the major leagues have become populated with predominantly foreign players. That’s the reality.

          • Submitted by Gary Derong on 03/30/2019 - 01:53 pm.

            To correct my first post, the St. Croix River Hounds have pushed back their inaugural Northwoods League season to 2020 due to stadium construction and scheduling concerns.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/28/2019 - 11:01 am.

    Praise to Rep. Hornstein, for his lone pro-labor vote on this exemption!

    The other DFLers on the committee, and in the legislature, should realize that management ALWAYS claims that they would have to go out of business if a provision helping laborers were to pass. ALWAYS. Armageddon. Sky falling. End of Life As We Know It.

    I do not respect those who pretend to be “strongly pro-labor,” but who fail the test the first time their feet are held to the fire on that principle.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/28/2019 - 11:03 am.

    The article does not identify the committee involved. It appears to have been Labor. You’ll find the membership of that committee here:

    https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/committees/members/91009

    This is insupportable. All who voted for it should be ashamed of themselves, whatever their party, as should Congress and the St. Paul City Council.

  4. Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 03/28/2019 - 11:13 am.

    I’m torn. Yes, they should at least earn minimum wage, but much of their compensation isn’t wages. They do not pay many of the expenses the rest of us must cover out of our own pockets. Their uniforms, meals, travel costs, hotel rooms, medical expenses and so on are paid for by the team. There are other perks like free tickets and food and souvenirs for family and friends. What is “work time” in these situations? Clearly playing, practicing, team meetings, public appearances is work. Is riding on a bus, sleeping in a hotel, eating meals together, getting dressed “work time?” The minimum wage workers emptying the trash don’t get any of this additional compensation and clearly have a standard of living below that of the players. Saints players aren’t the only workers waived from minimum wage laws either. Federal law allows sub minimum wages for domestic and home care workers and for people with disabilities. I worry way more about these vulnerable low income workers than baseball players.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/28/2019 - 11:51 am.

      I used to have to travel for work. My hotel and meal expenses were paid by my employer. I never considered it part of my wages. Those trips were just time away from my family.

      • Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 03/28/2019 - 12:04 pm.

        Where you in travel status 24/7 for 4 months and paid salary for every second of every 24 hours and unlimited food? I doubt it. It isn’t the same thing.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/28/2019 - 02:56 pm.

          These guys don’t travel 24/7 Half their games are at home, which means they have to pay for housing locally. Paying for lodging expenses on the road is no benefit at all.

  5. Submitted by B. Dalager on 03/28/2019 - 11:35 am.

    Sounds like they need a union.

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/28/2019 - 12:02 pm.

    Let’s look at the data. A cap of $125,000 for 22 players. That works out to about $6000 per player. Obviously not enough for anyone to be able to support themselves? How do they manage?

    Other numbers that aren’t reported are the team’s finances – attendance, ticket prices, concessions, parking revenue if any, coaching salaries, facilities expenses, total revenue and profit. How can you evaluate compensation without that? What percent of revenue goes to players?

    Frankly, it is about the money. Do lower player costs result in good profits? I really think that poor decisions result when decision makers are making judgments without complete information.

    • Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 03/28/2019 - 02:12 pm.

      $6,000 for four months. That is over the Medical Assistance Income limit. And above the SNAP (food stamps) limit. These guys are still earning more than a minimum wage worker. They just want to be paid for every minute of every day for a short-term summer job that comes with more perks than most people get. Most of them have other jobs throughout the year. Though I doubt the retired or former MLB players like Jack Morris or Daryll Strawberry had another gig. I remember one guy was a rich stockbroker who took summers off from Wall Street to play ball for fun. Once it stopped being fun he went back to Wall Street full time. Most are playing for the love of the game as a one last hurrah with a one in a million chance of being a Kevin Millar and making it to the bigs.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/28/2019 - 03:00 pm.

        For every aging star or stockbroker, there are dozens of guys chasing the dream while subsisting on poverty wages.

        They don’t want to be paid for every minute. They want to be paid for the time anyone else in a regular job would be paid for. They want to be paid a fair wage by the millionaire team-owners who cashed in on public subsidies.

        • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 03/28/2019 - 03:47 pm.

          Yes the Saints are doing well but the competition in their league isn’t making a lot of money on minor league baseball. If the player wages were increased the Saints would be okay but several teams in the league would fold.

          Frankly that might be fine. I’m pretty convinced the Saints could run like the Harlem Globetrotters, put together both the home and away teams every night and nobody in attendance would care. Just change the away jerseys every so often. They might even be more profitable since they could schedule games every weekend and avoid travel costs. There is a reason the beer vendors make more money than the players do at Saints games.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/29/2019 - 09:00 am.

        Barbara I don’t know where you get your information but an annual income of $6,000 is NOT above the poverty limits that qualify for wither SNAP or MA. Those limits are $16,000 a year for MA, and $1,600 a month (for an individual) for SNAP. These players make $1,500 a month.

        Now you can assume that these guys have other jobs if you want, but without knowing what those jobs are you can’t claim to know whether or not they qualify for assistance.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/31/2019 - 10:37 am.

        Barbara,

        Nobody in today’s America should have to work for $9.38 per hour. That’s what $6,000 for a four-month season works out to, if we consider that there never would be more than a 40-hour work week in there.(or $6.25 per hour, if the four months each hs 30 days and each day has eight work hours).

        Right.

        I also believe that domestic and heathcare workers )and childcare workers) are grossly underpaid–why put their almost-slave-labor wages in as a comparison? Talk about middle-class privilege, telling the poor that they should be happy to work for almost nothing. That’s your idea of the American Dream–working for hope, but no wages?

        Shades of Ivanka Trump, or Wilbur Ross!

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/28/2019 - 12:05 pm.

    Unfortunately this is an all to typical example of DFL “support” for labor. Did anyone even try to verify the claims that this would drive the team out of the stadium? The teams revenue has grown substantially since they got their new stadium but they can’t afford to pay their players minimum wage? This is price fixing by the way as far as the “league” is concerned.

    And again, who makes these stadium deals granting millions of public dollars to private franchises without stipulating some basic labor agreements? Reason #630 why we should never subsidize professional sports and build these stadiums.

    With any luck Walz will actually look into these claims being made by the owners when he decides whether or not to veto this bill. And yes, if you grant this exemption you have little if any basis to deny any other requested exemption… but maybe that was the plan all along? Pass $15 and then exempt it away upon request, isn’t that the “moderate” thing to do?

  8. Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 03/28/2019 - 12:06 pm.

    You guys are really feeling sorry for the wrong group of sub minimum wage workers.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/28/2019 - 03:01 pm.

      I want all sub-minimum wage workers to be compensated in accordance with the law. I don’t care what they do.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/29/2019 - 09:08 am.

      It’s not about sympathy, it’s about living wages. If an employer can’t pay living wages they certainly shouldn’t be getting any public subsidies. Is there any cap on what owners can make? Why so much sympathy for the owner?

  9. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/28/2019 - 05:54 pm.

    What would the salary cap have to be to pay the players $15/hour? What means are there to get the cap raised when other teams are in cities and states with lower minimum wages?

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 03/29/2019 - 10:28 am.

      Assume a 40 hour week and a 16 week schedule and $15/hr means 9600 per player or a salary cap of $212,000.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/29/2019 - 10:47 am.

      I was trying to figure this out, here’s what I come up with: An existing salary cap of $125,000 gives you an existing salary of around $5,682 per player. At $10 an hour that works out a total of 568 hours, or 71 eight hour days. If we multiply 568 hours by $5 we get $2,841 per player which adds $62K to the payroll.

      Of course in order to know how much “burden” that would place on the owners we’d need to see their revenue numbers. But regardless of burden living wages should be one of the cost of doing their business.

  10. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/29/2019 - 08:01 am.

    I side with the comments by Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Udstrand, especially “Reason #630…”

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2019 - 11:39 am.

    By the way this is why we need statewide $15 with subsequent automatic inflation adjustments and no exceptions . If you want to have a business and pay people to work for you, you need to be able to pay $15 an hour, that just has to be built into your business model.

    Owner income is never “capped” nor should anyone else’s income be capped outside of negotiated labor agreements, or labor requirements.

  12. Submitted by cory johnson on 03/30/2019 - 08:08 pm.

    Hard to believe, but I have to agree with most of the people posting. The state and local governments pitched in over half the cost of CHS field. Not sure about the rest of the teams, but the Saints generate millions in revenue. Paying the players a bit extra doesn’t seem out of line.

    • Submitted by cory johnson on 03/31/2019 - 10:35 am.

      And even at their current level it takes a lot more skill and training to perform this job than many of the nonexempt positions. This smells of cronyism

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