Minor league baseball is one of several industries with a carveout from minimum wage laws. Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Uncertain Terms

What is the “Save America’s Pastime Act”?

The Uncertain Hour staff Mar 17, 2021
Minor league baseball is one of several industries with a carveout from minimum wage laws. Chris Hondros/Getty Images

While working on this season of “The Uncertain Hour,” we heard a lot of words and phrases that sounded weird to our ears. So each week we’re going to explain a bit of jargon. To get a new “Uncertain Term” in your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter! To go with our seventh episode, this week’s Uncertain Term is “sweating system.”

The Save America’s Pastime Act rewrites federal law to exempt baseball players from the federal minimum wage and rules around overtime pay (originally established by the Fair Labor Standards Act). It was passed following pressure from Major League Baseball, team owners and minor league baseball representatives.

Originally introduced in 2016, the Save America’s Pastime Act came in response to a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged the MLB and its teams owed players pay for off-season trainings and overtime pay for extra hours during the season. At first, the proposed legislation was met with intense public backlash, and it died in the House of Representatives. But two years later, in 2018, it was quietly included on page 1,967 of a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill that needed to pass to keep the government open. The carveout is now the law of the land, and minor league players are not protected by standard minimum wage and overtime laws.

This was not the first time workers found themselves without protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act. When the FLSA originally passed in 1938, several groups of workers were not covered. One of the most glaring exemptions was pushed by Southern Democrats. They would only support the law if agricultural workers and domestic workers were exempt. At the time, workers in those industries were disproportionately Black or Latinx.  After decades of civil rights activism, many farm workers and domestic workers did get brought into the fold, though even now, some still aren’t covered.

Congress has created similar exemptions for other industries. There are now 34 carveouts from minimum wage and overtime requirements written directly into federal law. They apply to a range of groups including workers who propagate or harvest shellfish, people who process maple sap into syrup, switchboard operators and movie theater staff.

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