Major League Baseball Under Fire For Internship Practices

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Giants vs D Backs 9-2012
Flickr user daver6sf@yahoo.comAngel Pagan center fielder for the Giants.
The end of the World Series should have wrapped up the news season for major league baseball in the U.S. It didn't. But while the latest story is about conflict, it's not the uplifting sort. The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the San Francisco Giants and Miami Marlins for alleged wage law violations, according to FairWarning.org

FairWarning reported that emails and interviews obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the current examination of the Giants was over possible improper use of unpaid interns. The report did not provide details of the allegations toward the Marlins.The Giants responded to FairWarning that the club had an "established, highly sought-after internship program where students have the opportunity to gain real world experiences while earning school credit," and that interns were now paid at or above minimum wage while also receiving school credit. The Marlins said that " [none] of the Marlins' current labor practices are improper."

Unpaid internships have been the focus of attention and even legal action lately. In June, a judge said that some unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight were technically employees. The foundation of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg came under fire in its search for an unpaid intern. Even the White House was criticized for its unpaid intern program.

Charges of labor law violation aren't a first for baseball clubs. According to ESPN, the Giants had to pay $545 thousand in back wages to 74 clubhouse and administrative workers for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act over a three-year period. The clubhouse workers got flat pay but not all their hours were recorded. The result was less than $7.25 an hour. In addition, a number of administrative workers were classified as exempt from overtime when they really weren't.

"I am encouraged that the Giants acted to resolve this issue, but it was disappointing to learn that clubhouse workers providing services to high-paid sports stars weren't making enough to meet the basic requirements of minimum-wage law," Susana Blanco, the director of the San Francisco office of the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, said in a statement.


According to Fox Sports, the lowest annual pay for a Giants player in 2013 is $490,000, received by second baseman Nick Noonan, while the highest, $25.25 million, is for pitcher Tim Lincecum. For the Marlins, left fielder Alfredo Silverio was low man on the 2013 pay roster at $490,000; third baseman Placido Polanco topped the list at $2.75 million.

According to a memo from the Major League Baseball Office of the Commissioner, obtained by FairWarning, the Department of Labor "believes that the issues that it has identified are endemic to our industry" and had requested cooperation from the Commissioner's office.

MLB said that the clubs were separate businesses responsible for their own compliance, but that the umbrella organization would cooperate "to educate Clubs regarding the areas that the DOS is investigating in order for Clubs to take corrective action without the need for government intervention."

The issues that caught the interest of the DOL included unpaid interns, some employees being incorrectly identified as exempt from overtime requirements, ignoring bonuses when determining an employee's hourly pay and overtime rates, and paying flat daily rates that work out to less than minimum wage.

Image: Flickr user daver6sf@yahoo.com
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