St. Paul Saints management is pushing for the minor league baseball team’s 22 players to be exempt from the state’s minimum-wage requirements.
A legislative proposal from Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, would exempt minor league baseball players under Minnesota law, similar to seasonal employees at places like carnivals, ski facilities and fairs.
“This seemed to be reasonable in terms of the Saints being a part-time employer,” Cohen said in a Senate committee hearing this week.
But the measure faces a tough road at the Capitol, coming amid a rising debate about minimum-wage requirements in the Twin Cities.
Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, is sponsoring a House bill that also includes a minor league baseball player exemption from minimum-wage and overtime requirements, but he said he isn’t sure he will request a hearing that will allow it to move forward.
“I’m a big supporter of the Saints, but I don’t particularly like paying people less than minimum wage,” Mahoney said Friday.
Minnesota law requires large employers, like the Saints, to pay workers at least $9.65 an hour. Team executives say players’ pay isn’t tracked by the hour but that they’re paid by contract based on experience. They generally make $800 to $4,000 a month during their four-month season.
If the legislation fails, the team could face problems with the salary cap imposed by the league the Saints are part of — the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, said Derek Sharrer, the team’s executive vice president and general manager.
“We may be in a position where we would not be able to abide by our league bylaws, which would force us not to be able to operate,” Sharrer told the committee.
Team executives point to the seasonal nature of the work and travel as reasons for exemption. “Minor league players are trainees by nature,” Sharrer said. “We have a unique, nontraditional employee-employer relationship.”
Team executives say that the Saints’ 100-game schedule, which runs from May through August, often takes them outside Minnesota. Most players come from out of state, Executive Vice President Tom Whaley said Friday.
“They basically spend half their time on the road,” Whaley said. “It’s 22 players that are here less than two months out of the year.”
Whaley said minor league baseball currently meets a minimum-wage exemption under federal law. He said the purpose of the legislation is to “get in line” with federal law and add a state exemption that’s “reasonable” based on similar seasonal industries.
“We’re not alone in this regard,” he said. “Illinois passed a law just last year that was really similar to what we’re attempting to do.”
The topic of pay could be complicated if St. Paul opts to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour after Minneapolis adopted the increase last year, becoming the first Midwestern city to do so.
The legislative measure’s future is uncertain. At Monday’s committee meeting, Cohen requested that his bill be withdrawn after an amendment was added that would include seasonal agricultural workers under the proposed minimum-wage exemption.