Feb 22, 2024 - News

MLB seeks an exemption to Arizona's minimum wage for Spring Training

Illustration of baseball glove with a quarter replacing the baseball

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Major League Baseball wants Arizona lawmakers to exempt minor league players from the state's minimum wage during spring training.

  • But the proposal will strike out unless they can persuade reluctant Democrats to get on board.

Why it matters: Supporters say the bill is needed to comply with players' contracts and ensure that Arizona remains an attractive destination to MLB for spring training.

State of play: Owners and minor league players reached a collective bargaining agreement last year that includes spring training pay below the minimum wage approved by Arizona voters in 2016.

  • Bills in the House and Senate would exempt the players covered by the 2023 agreement from that minimum wage, as well as from hours-worked and record-keeping requirements.

Of note: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation last year with a similar exemption for minor league players.

Between the lines: Arizona laws passed at the ballot, like the minimum wage, require a three-fourths vote in each legislative chamber to amend.

  • Only a change that "furthers the purpose" of the voter-approved law is permitted.

Be smart: With Republicans holding one-vote majorities in each chamber, the bills will need a substantial number of Democratic votes and support from Gov. Katie Hobbs, who has expressed skepticism about the idea.

The intrigue: Hugo Polanco, a lobbyist for Living United for Change in Arizona, which led the campaign for the minimum wage effort, Proposition 206, tells Axios the bills are "not even close" to having the Democratic support they need.

  • The House and Senate versions both passed procedural hurdles Wednesday but still require floor votes.

Yes, but: Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein tells Axios she still opposes the bill and is urging other Democrats to do the same but says "it's possible we can get there."

By the numbers: The MLB says minor league players' wages, signing bonuses and other benefits like housing and food averages to about $110,000.

  • But Epstein says not every player reaches that threshold, and total compensation for some would still be below minimum wage.
  • She said a Wednesday amendment requiring players to be compensated "in a manner that exceeds the requirements" of the minimum wage law was a step in the right direction but more needs to be done.

Zoom out: "We see this as a slippery slope situation," says Polanco, who worries that the bills will open the door for other industries to seek exemptions.

The other side: "A minor league player's ultimate goal is to be called up to the major leagues. … Minor league is for skill training and development," lobbyist Meghaen Dell'Artino, who represents MLB, told a Senate committee last month.

Reality check: Even if the bill passes, Polanco says, a lawsuit will challenge it.

  • And Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes has said she opposes the legislation, arguing that it violates the intent of the voters in 2016.
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