This is not a political website. If you would like politics, please visit Vox.com. That is, visit that site if you would like overt political news. Here, we like to sneak politics in by vaguely concealing our disgust over labor practices and by generally siding with the players over owners. However, today I would like to talk about how weird it is there is an addendum about minor league baseball in the 2018 omnibus spending bill.
We can all come together, both sides of the aisle, and agree this is really weird, right?
On page 1,967 of the 2,232-page bill — immediately following a section about the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act and the National Criminal History Background Check and Criminal History Review Program — there is an addendum to a 1939 labor law that specifically carves out an exemption for minor league baseball.
[A]ny 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 on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.
If you want a full explainer of what this means, you can go here. But the short explanation is in a 2,232-page bill that details how federal money will be spent for the year, affecting laws pertaining to health care, education, and the military, there’s a little blurb about how minor league baseball players can’t get overtime. They’ll get 40 hours at minimum wage, no more, no less, regardless of travel time or how many hours they actually spend practicing or training. Regardless of how much time they’re required to be in a certain place of employment, attempting to add value to their employers’ business interests.
And, again, my question is this: Isn’t that a little weird? That people in the United States Congress care about such a precise issue? This specific little niche of American industry which affects so few people?
This was an follow-up to a bipartisan bill that was sponsored by Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) titled the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” which was described on this very site as “a river of molten sewage.” Considering the salaries of minor leaguers are paid by the parent club, the deceptive premise of helping minor league teams in small towns was odious. No, the Louisville Redbirds really aren’t overflowing with cash, and, yes, they would be in trouble if they had to pay every one of their players a living wage. But that wasn’t the case, and it never was. After negative publicity, Bustos dropped her sponsorship, and the bill stalled.
So here’s something slipped into a yearly spending bill that would help about 100 to 200 individuals, depending on how many different people are currently a part of Major League Baseball ownership groups. It would negatively affect more than 6,000 people. But, again, we’re talking about .0002 percent of the United States.
Isn’t that strange? Like, completely and totally odd that anyone in Congress would care about this enough to include it?
“Now, Grant,” you say. “You’re just being naïve. This is how our system of government works. Baseball is an industry, and industries have lobbyists. It’s the job of lobbyists to get lawmakers to include provisions and sections that benefit their employees.”
No, I get this, but it’s not related to the question at hand. And the question at hand is this: Isn’t it super weird it works like this? Just completely nonsensical?
Because from here, it sure looks like a system designed specifically to benefit a tiny, tiny cabal of interests without any ethical component to it whatsoever. There appears to be no benefit to the general constituency. It looks like a small group of people advocating for a cause that roughly translates to, “This could cost us money. We like keeping as much money as possible,” and somehow, that made it into a bill about how to finance the United States government.
If minor-league pay could really threaten the entire industry of baseball, I could almost understand how congressional representatives might be interested, citing Chevrolet and apple pie and getting free publicity for it. But it won’t threaten the entire industry. It could cost owners money, and they like keeping as much money as possible. That’s it. That’s the argument behind it. And I have to be honest with you: I think it’s really strange.
It’s as if ... a small group of ultra-rich people ... have a disproportionate effect on how ... aaaaah, my brain ... government can help them stay ultra-rich even in matters that don’t affect the ... aaaaagggh it burns, help ... general population, just by virtue of having powerful friends in ... AAGGGH I CAN SEE THROUGH TIME ... Congress?
Again, please don’t think of this in terms of party affiliation. Not this time. There are lobbyists who exist to influence all sides of the political spectrum. Here’s an esoteric example of an extremely unusual industry to remind you just how weird this whole system is.
BERT SMOCKE (D - MN.): Aherm, uh, yes, I would like to introduce the Keep Aviation Safe Bill of 2018, which would allow the fine people who run our nation’s airlines, so vital to our economy in many respects, to avoid paying overtime to baggage handlers, even if they work 80 hours a week. This is absolutely necessary, and I urge you to hear me out ...
That would be strange! Why only baggage handlers? Why this specific industry? How is this relevant to how the country operates? Except in this analogy, the airline industry really is crucial to how the country functions. So we’ll have to try again.
DANDER LIVELY (R - PA.): Now, this is, uh, in regards to the Economy First Act, in which I propose that hourly employees at Office Depot are not allowed to use the Keurig machine in the breakroom because, frankly, they’ve been abusing their privileges in that regard, and it should be for salaried managers only.
That would also be strange! Who cares about the specific ins and outs of the Office Depot employee handbook? Certainly not Congress, at least when it comes to carving out special exemptions of the law, just for them.
But in a 2,232 omnibus-spending bill, there is something dedicated to minor league baseball players, and it will prevent them from collecting overtime, which will harm their efforts to be paid a living wage. Only baseball players. Not baseball players and administrative assistants. Not baseball players and taxidermists. Just baseball players.
As a reminder, baseball players generally give up their youth to attempt to make a living in an industry that probably won’t have any use for them. They’re falling behind their peers, who get to do this:
That worker will be more employable than the minor leaguer who suddenly doesn’t have any job offers at 30. And in some respects, that’s fine. We all make choices in our lives and careers, and sometimes we choose to chase that golden bunny.
All I would recommend is paying living wages to minor leaguers as they go through that process, which would help soften the blow. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, considering they’re absolutely vital to the success of the entire industry.
But that might not happen now because of a federal law shoved into an omnibus spending bill.
Which is weird. Really, really weird. And sort of an indictment of the whole system and a reminder of what’s prioritized and what isn’t with our system of government.
But also extremely weird and gross.
We can all agree this is really weird, right?