Monday, April 2, 2018

U.S.-born minor league baseball players just "collateral" damage in law aimed to harm Latino players

I have to admit that I can’t be much of a baseball fan these days if I didn’t even know that “opening day” this season was in the middle of last week, and not on a Monday as has been the usual practice. Not that “opening day” is that important in a 162-game season, as fans of the 1978 Chicago Cubs team learned, when the team started the season 47-22 and 8 games in first place in the NL East, and finished 81-81, 20 games out of first place. It could be worse; the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers started 20-3, then lost 12 in a row and continued to lose until they finished the first half of the season with a losing record. The Brewers then went an impressive 51-30 the second half of the season, but finishing 7 games out of first place. This meant that the team bookended their season with a record of 71-33, but were 20-38 during that early season stretch; had they just played .500 ball during that time, they would have won 100 games and the division. Just some “fun facts” for you. 

Not such “fun facts” is what just occurred last week. Attached to the spending bill passed by Congress, and “reluctantly” signed by Donald Trump, was something called the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” which as usual as something supported by owners, corporations and their Republican allies has more to do with the “business” side than the “game.” The mendaciously-named act is intended to deny minor league baseball players their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938. The act requires minimum wages, and time-and-half for overtime work for all hours over 40 per week. Four players had been suing the MLB for violating the act, forcing minor league players to work 50-60 hour weeks without additional compensation beyond the pittance that most are paid. 

The law passed by Congress denies labor rights to “any employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not spring training or the offseason) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage ... for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.”

Confusing, huh? It is meant to be, but what it does say essentially for minor league baseball players is that since they are de facto “seasonal” workers, they are bound to a weekly wage “contract” that is the equivalent for 40 hours of work, regardless if in fact they work more than those hours in a week. They have no more “rights” than do Mexican immigrant farm workers. 

Is it that a “coincidence”? Indeed not. While all minor league players are now affected, there are some who are considered top prospects and receive substantial signing bonuses—and they are almost always players born in this country. According The Guardian’s U.S. bureau, which is virtually the only “mainstream” source of the dirty truth of what is happening in this country,

However, the Trump-supporting political spending of many MLB owners and their push to exempt the increasingly Latino minor leagues from US minimum wage laws has raised questions about how committed team owners are to their Latino players and their growing Latino fan base. Last year immigrant players made up a record high percentage of professional opening day rosters.  About 31% of all professional baseball players and approximately 50% of all minor leaguers are Latinos.

Team owners rely heavily on this immigrant workforce, although only one out of 50 players actually make it to the big leagues after a three- or four-year journey through the minor leagues. Throughout Latin America, all 30 baseball teams run dormitory-style academies that offer free room and board to boys as young as 13, who drop out of school to pursue their dream.

When clubs sign players in Latin America, they are able to skirt the league’s draft rules of minimum signing age, signing them as young as 16 without representation. Often, they get only a few thousand dollars signing bonus, and a minimum wage of only $1,100 a month to work for a mere five months a year; in contrast US-born top draft picks of comparable talent are signed for bonuses worth millions of dollars.

Yes, Latin American players, since they are technically “working” in the country on “temporary” work visas for what is “seasonal” work, are not subject to the same labor rights as U.S. citizens. But since each team is in competition with the other for the best players, Latino players who make it to the “big leagues” make whatever their true market value is. But for those in the minor leagues, Latin American players have no rights whatever to a fair wage, and the act just voted on by Congress and signed by Trump codifies it for all time—and not just for them.

Consider this: there are approximately 8,000 players in the minor league system. That sounds like a lot of players to pay, doesn’t it? Under the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” all of those players can now be paid what it costs to compensate just two major league stars making $25 million a season. This is not to say that U.S.-born players will be paid slave wages like most Latin American players (I suspect that few in this country are complaining about that). But the new law now gives MLB teams the “right” to do so for all players.

This is how I see it: Trump and those of like mind are outraged by the idea that so many Latino players are an increasing presence on baseball rosters. If it can’t be stopped, then insure that they have no rights that a “real” American has. But in their blindness caused by their racism at these developments, they don’t see that “real” Americans are also being hurt; they just want to insure that Latino players get as little as possible—and MLB is taking full advantage of this blindness. If they chose to, MLB owners can now pay all players as little as $300 a week or less, regardless of their “legal” status or their level in the minors.

There are those (including Bernie Sanders, unfortunately) who would blame the intended victims of this system as the cause of the diminution of labor rights in this country. But they did not vote for the people who passed labor-unfriendly laws, and a president who signs them. If there is “collateral” damage, then maybe that wasn’t an accident; bigotry sometimes has a way of coming back around on the people who sow it.

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