The league says its agreement with the players’ union justifies an exemption. Whether it’s even legal to do so is in question.
By Caitlin Sievers, AZ Mirror
Major League Baseball wants minor league players who participate in spring training in Arizona exempted from the state’s minimum wage laws.
Those in opposition to the exemption, including Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, say it goes against the intent of voters who approved Proposition 206 in 2016, increasing the state’s minimum wage by an annual dollar amount over the next four years, followed by mandatory increases at the start of each year based on annual inflation. As of Jan. 1, Arizona’s minimum wage was $14.35 per hour.
But after shelling out $185 million in 2022 to current and former minor league players to settle a class action lawsuit brought for minimum wage violations, MLB is asking the Arizona lawmakers to make a change to the law that the league says its players and their union support.
As a part of the settlement, the league agreed to instruct its clubs to pay minor league players in compliance with Arizona and Florida wage and hours-worked laws, including minimum wage laws. MLB has already successfully lobbied for exemptions from minimum wage laws in Florida, where spring training also takes place, and in California.
Meghaen Dell’Artino, a local lobbyist representing MLB, told members of the Senate Finance and Commerce Committee on Monday that minor league players themselves favored the minimum wage exemption.
No players attended the meeting to speak for or against a proposed minimum wage exemption bill, or registered an official position for or against it, and the players’ union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu City, sponsored Senate Bill 1093, which would specifically exempt minor league baseball players from the minimum wage law only if they had entered into a collective bargaining agreement regarding their compensation. It would also exempt minor league players from any record-keeping or rules surrounding hours worked.
Last March, minor league players and owners came to their first collective bargaining agreement — which runs through November 2027.
The bill has an emergency clause, meaning if passed into law with a two-thirds supermajority in both the state House and Senate, it would take effect immediately instead of 90 days after the end of this legislative session, like most other bills. MLB Cactus League spring training in Arizona begins in late February.
Dell’Artino told the senators that, under the contract, minor league players are paid $635 per week during spring training in Arizona, but also receive retirement and housing benefits, highly subsidized health care and food stipends. Some also receive large signing bonuses.
“This better fits their actual day-to-day experience,” Dell’Artino said, adding that, altogether, players receive an average compensation package worth around $110,000, annually.
Players, MLB and owners agree, she said, that minor leaguers shouldn’t have to track their hours and clock out when they reach a certain threshold, when most of the players are trying to make it to the majors and may want to spend as much time as possible training.
“A minor league player’s ultimate goal is to be called up to the major leagues,” Dell’Artino said. “Minor league is for skill training and development.”
She added that MLB thinks the exemption, along with the current contract, are in line with the voter intent of Proposition 206.
But Mayes disagreed, saying in a statement that the carveout MLB is asking for contradicts voter intent.
“Rather than furthering the purpose of voter-approved legislation, it undermines it,” Mayes said in the statement. “Every worker in Arizona, including minor league players, deserves to be paid fairly in accordance with state law and the clear intent of voters. This carveout risks setting a harmful precedent, weakening the critical worker protections approved by voters.”
Hugo Polanco, a lobbyist for Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, which played a major part in advocating for the passage of Proposition 206, also asked the senators not to back the bill.
“It is not the job of the Arizona legislature to do the bidding of greedy billionaire owners,” LUCHA’s Executive Director Alejandra Gomez said in a statement. “This bill contradicts the democratic will expressed by the people of Arizona through Proposition 206. It jeopardizes the hard-fought rights of workers and sets a dangerous precedent that undermines the very essence of fair wages and workers’ protections.”
Polanco told the senators on Monday that, if this bill passes, it will likely be challenged on the basis that it does not align with the voter intent of Proposition 206, leaving the courts to decide the outcome. Arizona’s constitution strictly limits the ability of lawmakers to alter voter-approved measures, and any changes they make must both “further the intent” of voters and win approval by three-fourths majorities in each legislative chamber.
This is not the first time MLB has tried to get minor league players exempted from Arizona minimum wage law.
In 2019, then-Rep. T.J. Shope introduced House Bill 2180, which was assigned to the House Commerce Committee, but never got a hearing.
Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, warned that if Arizona opts not to adopt the exemption MLB is seeking, the league might abandon the Grand Canyon State for another, more friendly location. He added that the Valley sees an “infusion of people coming from outside our state” coming to see spring training games each year and that he would hate to see that end.
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who chairs the Senate Finance and Commerce Committee, said he backed the bill since the minor league players already agreed to the contract.
“This bill designed to help workers is undermining a contract they negotiated,” he said. “There’s no way voters had that in mind.”
The bill passed through the committee by a vote of 5-2, with Yuma Democratic Sen. Brian Fernandez voting in favor of it alongside the committee’s Republicans. Fernandez said he erred on the side of allowing the players to use their collective bargaining rights to negotiate their own contract.
House Bill 2197, which mirrors the senate bill, passed through the House Commerce Committee Jan. 16, by a vote of 6-4. The next step for both bills is consideration by the full House and Senate.
Read more about LUCHA's response to House Bill 2197 here: