The Magazine of Corporate Responsibility

Oakland Athletics Latest Major League Team to Settle Claim of Wage Violations

by Myron Levin
FairWarning

A third Major League Baseball team—the Oakland Athletics—has agreed to pay back wages and damages to a group of current and former employees to settle government claims that they had been illegally underpaid.

Photo by Bob James via FlickrIn a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Athletics agreed to pay $266,358 to 86 employees. Among them were clubhouse workers who labor officials said were paid $70 on game days regardless of how many hours they worked, sometimes dropping their pay below the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Others were interns who received stipends that were less than the minimum wage, according to Jason Surbey, spokesman for the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

Bob Rose, public relations director for the Athletics, said in an email that the club was “pleased that the matter could be resolved quickly and informally with the DOL (Department of Labor) to both parties’ satisfaction.’’

David Weil, head of the Wage and Hour Division, said in a prepared statement that he was glad “that we were able to assist in getting workers what they deserve—a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’’

The wage settlement is the fourth with big league clubs in the past year.

As reported by FairWarning, the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants have also paid back wages and damages to resolve Wage and Hour investigations.

The Marlins earlier this year paid $288,290 to 39 employees. The Giants settled a pair of wage cases in 2013 and 2014—for $544,715 and $220,793, respectively.

According to Labor Department figures, the three prior settlements and the latest one with the A’s netted 277 employees a total of $1,320,156—about one-third the current salary of the average Major League player.

Another big league club–the Baltimore Orioles—is also the subject of a wage investigation, but that case is not yet concluded.

While the eye-popping salaries of Major League players draw the most attention, big league teams have many low-paid workers, too. Many of those affected by the wage probes have been  clubhouse workers who were typically paid a daily rate to provide services to team players such as cleaning and preparing the locker rooms. With long work hours on game days, their pay sometimes fell below the federal minimum and they did not receive time-and-a-half pay after working more than 40 hours in a week, as federal law requires. The wage probes do not take  account of tips the workers may receive for such things as running errands for players.

Others have been administrative workers or interns who received modest stipends. However, because they worked in such areas as baseball operations and ticket sales, labor officials said they, too, were covered by minimum wage and overtime rules.

Internships that provide little or no pay have been common in glamour industries such as media, entertainment and sports, triggering controversy and private litigation, along with government investigations. Under Labor Department guidelines, internships that fail to pay minimum wage are proper only when designed for the education of interns, not to benefit employers or displace regular workers.

In a memo last September, the baseball commissioner’s office called on presidents and top lawyers for the 30 Major League clubs to review their operations to ensure compliance with wage standards. The Labor Department believes that questionable pay practices “are endemic to our industry,” said the memo, which was obtained by FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act.

With just over 1,000 investigators to oversee about 7.3 million U.S. workplaces, Wage and Hour officials have made it clear that they would rather get voluntary compliance than investigate all of the big league clubs. Last November, they conducted a briefing on federal wage standards for team executives in Orlando.

Photo: Bob James via Flickr

FairWarning (www.fairwarning.org) is a Los Angeles-based news organization focused on health, safety and environmental issues, and related topics of government and business accountability.

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