U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, is urging Major League Baseball to reconsider its proposal that would eliminate 42 minor league teams, including the Auburn Doubledays.
Sanders wrote a letter asking MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to end its push to restructure the minor league system. The plan would dissolve the lowest levels of the minor leagues. Forty-two teams would lose their affiliations to major league clubs.
Nine of the teams that would be affected by the proposal play in the New York-Penn League. Three of the clubs are based in New York: Auburn, Batavia and Staten Island.
In his letter, Sanders questioned the need for MLB to slash minor league teams when the league is generating record revenues — it reported $10.3 billion in revenues in 2018 — and the 20 wealthiest MLB owners have a combined net worth of more than $50 billion.
"The average Major League Baseball team is now worth nearly $1.8 billion and made $40 million in profits last year alone, a 38% increase from the previous year," Sanders wrote. "Let's be clear. Your proposal to slash the number of minor league teams has nothing to do with what is good for baseball, but it has everything to do with greed."
Sanders noted the plan follows a federal appeals court ruling that allows minor league baseball players to pursue a class action lawsuit regarding the low wages paid, especially at the lowest levels of the minor league system.
Minor League Baseball's website explains that first-year players earn a maximum of $1,100 a month. After the first year, the website continues, it's "open to negotiation." The salary, as Sanders shared in his letter, is below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Players aren't paid overtime.
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"Instead of paying minor league baseball players a living wage, it appears that the multi-millionaire and billionaire owners of Major League Baseball would rather throw them out on the street no matter how many fans, communities and workers get hurt in the process," Sanders said.
The MLB proposal is part of negotiations with Minor League Baseball for a new professional baseball agreement, which details the relationship between the two entities. The current professional baseball agreement expires in September 2020.
MiLB told The Citizen last week that both sides are having conversations. MLB and MiLB officials met in Dallas last week. They plan to gather again at the baseball winter meetings in San Diego next month.
Sanders is the latest elected official to comment on the proposal. Several New York elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Rep. John Katko and state Sens. Bob Antonacci and Pam Helming, have criticized the plan.
If MLB continues its push to shut down minor league teams, Sanders thinks Congress should "reconsider all of the benefits it has bestowed to the league." One of the main benefits for MLB is its anti-trust exemption, which has been in place for nearly a century.
"For the communities that would be negatively impacted, for the people who would be hurt, and for what is good for baseball, do not shut down these minor league baseball teams," Sanders added. "Pay the minor league players a living wage and make it easier for them to join a union."