In a letter to Commissioner Manfred, the Senators ask how the 100-year old MLB antitrust exemption impacts the Minor Leagues
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee; U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee; U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chair of the Subcommittee on The Constitution; and U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, today sent a bipartisan request to the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball for information regarding the impact of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) antitrust exemption on minor league players and teams. In a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Senators sought information about the impact of this unique exemption on a range of issues affecting Minor League players, including contract rights, team contraction, lockouts and work stoppages, and treatment of international prospects.
“May 29, 2022 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s unilateral creation of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) antitrust exemption in the case Federal Baseball Club v. National League,” the Senators wrote. “As we mark this anniversary, we seek information about how MLB’s antitrust exemption impacts the league’s structure and operations, with a focus on the exemption’s impact on competition in the labor market for minor league ballplayers, as well as the operations of minor league teams. Your answers will help inform the Senate Judiciary Committee’s analysis of the necessity of this century-old exemption.”
On June 28, the Senators sent a similar bipartisan request for information to Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve working conditions for minor league baseball players. In a fourteen-page letter responding to the Senators, Executive Director Harry Marino denounced what he called the “Minor League Conspiracy,” an anticompetitive agreement between Major League Baseball’s 30 owners to both “suppress Minor League player wages” and “artificially limit the number of Minor League teams.” Marino noted that the owners’ openly anticompetitive conduct would plainly violate federal antitrust laws if they applied.
The June letter followed a Department of Justice statement of interest in the minor league contraction antitrust case Nostalgic Partners, LLC v. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. In its statement of interest, the Department called the antitrust exemption an “aberration” that “does not rest on any substantive policy interests that justify players and fans losing out on the benefits of competition.”
Today’s letter also follows the July 15 submission for approval of a settlement in a long-running labor law case in which a class of minor league players alleged that MLB violated federal and state labor laws in its compensation of minor league players. As part of the settlement, MLB will advise its clubs that they must compensate minor league players in compliance with wage-and-hour laws in Arizona and Florida during previously unpaid time periods, such as Spring Training and extended spring training.
The Senators continued, “Baseball is the only American professional sport to have a general exemption from the antitrust laws. The Supreme Court, as recently as its 2021 decision in NCAA v. Alston, has characterized Federal Baseball as ‘unrealistic,’ ‘inconsistent’ and ‘aberrational.’ … We appreciate your attention to this timely issue and look forward to working with you to ensure that players, communities, and fans can continue to enjoy America’s pastime.”
Full text of the letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is available here.