Cheri Bustos, one of the two members of the House of Representatives behind the “Save America’s Pastime Act”, has pivoted and withdrawn support from her own terrible bill.
H.R. 5580 aimed to lock in poverty-level wages for minor league baseball players by formally amending the Fair Labor Standards Act and creating a specific exemption that barred minor league baseball players—who earn between $1,100 and $2,150 per month for a five-month season—from receiving minimum wage or overtime pay.
Bustos made the absurd case that living wages for minor leaguers would make teams too expensive to run, and could threaten the existence of “local teams.” It was never really about that, but rather a way to stave off threats to MLB’s federal antitrust protection. (Coincidentally or not, the survival of that antitrust exemption was one of the biggest successes of Bustos’s father, early MLB lobbyist Gene Callahan.)
There is an argument positing that player wages rising to minimum wage would prompt MLB owners to simply cut ties with low-A ball and other fringe teams under their umbrella and move to an NBA or NFL model that relies on colleges. The problem with that is that baseball players take more time to develop, and it would be such an outsized advantage to the owners who did maintain a healthy farm system that those who cut their low-A teams would put themselves at a marked disadvantage on the field.
What MLB is concerned about here is not losing money, but lessening profits—a league with nearly $10 billion in revenue can afford to keep its employees above the poverty line. Playoff revenue bonuses for one postseason series could easily pay for an entire minor league team of players making $1,300 a month.
This morning, Bustos released a statement disavowing the bill:
“Minor League baseball teams are an important part of the economic and social fabric of communities across our nation, including the Quad-Cities and Peoria, in our Congressional District,” Congresswoman Bustos said. “In the last 24 hours, several concerns about the bill have been brought to my attention that have led me to immediately withdraw my support of the legislation.”
Interestingly, she did a complete 180 on the position she took against labor, and advocated that minor leaguers should actually be making more money, when she was warning just yesterday that financially empowered minor league baseball players were a threat to the fabric of baseball itself:
“Whether it’s on the factory floor, in classrooms or on the playing fields of one of America’s revered traditions, I strongly support raising the minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining for fair wages, and I believe that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they do.”
Without the support of its author, the bill is probably dead on arrival.