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Minor League Baseball Players Demand Spring Training Pay

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Minor League Baseball Players Demand Spring Training Pay
Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Luke Barker (68) during a Minor League Spring Training game against the Kansas City Royals at Maryvale Baseball Park on March 25, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Luke Barker, a pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, delivers a pitch during spring training in 2018. Barker is among the players requesting payment for the two months they’re required to participate in spring training.
Zachary Lucy Four Seam Images via The Associated Press

Last month, minor league baseball players received their first paychecks since October. The checks came nearly two months after the players showed up for spring training, the preseason period that is mandatory but unpaid. 

Some players want that to change.

Last week, more than 1,000 minor league players sent a petition to Major League Baseball requesting compensation for their time in spring training.

“It’s pretty much a full workday for two months where you’re not getting paid,” said Luke Barker, a minor league pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers system, in a video posted by More Perfect Union, a labor-focused media group.

The petition was organized by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit advocacy group that has worked to bring attention to the financial struggles of players in the minors. The demand is perhaps the most widespread call for better wages from minor league players, many of whom are hesitant to speak out for fear of jeopardizing their chance at a promotion to the big leagues.

The effort comes just more than a month after a federal judge ruled that MLB violated wage laws by classifying minor leaguers as seasonal apprentices rather than employees. The ruling, which set the conditions for a jury trial in a long-running class-action suit, found that minor league players were working during spring training.

While MLB is contesting that lawsuit, minor league players are urging the league to pay them for their work rather than waiting for the outcome of the legal fight.

MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The league has told ESPN that it could not comment on "ongoing litigation," but has argued that minor league players are seasonal employees exempt from minimum wage laws.

In 2019, MLB pushed a bill that would have exempted minor leaguers from minimum wage laws in Arizona, which hosts many of the league’s spring training facilities. The bill did not advance.

Supporters of minor leaguers have begun their own policy push, with a bill in California that would limit how long players remain under team control. Lawmakers elsewhere have taken notice, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, is leading a push at the federal level to strip MLB’s anti-trust exemption.

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