Ed Chambers's counterpart was on the phone from upstate New York. He had a favor to ask the president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1625 in Florida. Would he mind contacting Garrett Broshuis, a baseball agent friend of his in Pittsburgh?
"So I called him," says Chambers, "and that's how I found out that many minor [league baseball players] are working from 7, 8 in the morning until late in the afternoon, seven days a week, and 20 percent aren't making the equivalent of minimum wage."
Chambers's organization has aligned itself with Broshuis to shed light on the fact that most farm-club players get paid dirt-poor wages.
The forces have also united in a public awareness campaign using organized labor's might to put the spotlight on a lawsuit filed against Major League Baseball (MLB) and its 30 teams by Broshuis on behalf of several dozen former minor league players.
The allegation: Ballplayers in the minors make less than required by state and federal laws governing minimum wage and overtime.
The salaries earned by those plying their trade for teams such as the Elizabethon Twins, Minnesota's rookie-level affiliate in Tennessee, and the independent St. Paul Saints are a stark contrast to Joe Mauer's $23 million annual take.
"If they're a first-round pick," says Chambers, "sure they might get a million-dollar signing bonus. But for the tenth-round pick, their bonus might only be a thousand bucks. Regardless of where they were drafted, their salaries are the same. These guys start off at $850 a month and it goes up incrementally from there, depending on how many years they've played in the minors. That's from the beginning of the season in April all the way until September, the majority of these players are earning about $1,000 a month."
It's estimated that most minor league players at major league affiliates from rookie league to AAA earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season, according to Chambers.
Saints players pocket similar salaries.
Sean Aronson, the team's director of broadcasting and media relations, says the average monthly salary on the Saints' 22-man roster is $1,400.
The Saints play in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, a non-MLB affiliated league where the minimum monthly salary is $800 and the team's salary cap is $125,000.
Fast food workers, in contrast, average between $15,000 and $18,000 annually.
"When I started doing some research into this," says Chambers, "I found four to five guys living in an apartment together, some who have a wife and kids, and they're all in the same boat. They're just trying to make ends meet. The reality for most minor leaguers -- most of whom won't ever make it to the majors -- is the benefits suck, there's no retirement, and the salary is brutal."
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