The current contentious dispute between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball became public in October, when Baseball America reported that MLB had offered a plan to eliminate as many as 42 minor-league teams after the 2020 minor-league season, when the Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB expires. In November, the New York Times released the list of those 42 teams that would be cut, and that sparked much more interest. Suddenly, we knew what towns could potentially lose teams, which communities — some significant to the sport’s history — could be without baseball. That made it much more real. And when the baseball world’s attention moved to San Diego for the annual Winter Meetings, things escalated quickly.MORE: Five way-too-early bold predictions for the 2020 MLB seasonCommissioner Rob Manfred was asked about the dispute during his press conference, and after stressing that negotiations were in an early stage when the list of 42 teams/cities was leaked, he followed up with this ominous quote.”When people publicly attack a long-time partner after they’ve committed to confidentiality in the negotiating process,” Manfred said on Dec. 11, “usually people don’t feel so good about that.”Yikes, eh? Manfred and baseball’s powers-that-be were not happy that their plan was now public, likely because it was being almost universally condemned. And from there, things really got out of hand fast. On Dec. 13, MiLB released a detailed response, going point-by-point over each issue and accusing MLB of “repeatedly and inaccurately” portraying MiLB’s position in public.How’d MLB respond, almost immediately? By threatening to sever ties with MiLB completely after the current agreement expires.”If the National Association has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”Yep. The dispute has jumped up a notch since San Diego’s meetings.Politicians have gotten involved, of course. Threatening to first eliminate minor-league baseball from 42 communities — and then threatening to end everything and start over — was certain to attract a bit of attention. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been the loudest voice. He’s met with Manfred, and in mid-December he also met with people representing minor-league baseball in Burlington, Iowa. It’s not a coincidence that’s one of the towns on the list of 42 teams to be eliminated. One of the people Sanders met with was Garrett Broshuis, a lawyer at Korein Tillery out of St. Louis and former minor-league pitcher who has been leading the charge to force MLB to pay its minor-league players a living wage. We’ve written about Broshuis’ quest often at Sporting News, so we caught up with him again after his meeting with Sanders to get a grip on what’s happening with this dispute. First, though, an update on Broshuis’ case, from the firm’s press release. In Senne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a lawsuit brought in 2014 by players represented by Korein Tillery, minor league players seek to remedy the low salaries by using state and federal wage-and-hour laws. Major League Baseball responded by lobbying Congress for an exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which Congress provided in March 2018. Named the Save America’s Pastime Act, the exemption was included on page 1,967 of an omnibus spending bill. The case, however, continues to proceed. In August 2019, the players won an important appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed them to proceed as a class action under the wage laws of several states. The players asked the Court to certify a class to adjudicate their minimum wage and overtime claims for work performed in California, Arizona, and Florida. The Ninth Circuit agreed. As a result, approximately 15,000 current and former minor-league players will have their minimum-wage and overtime claims heard on the merits. Korein Tillery and its co-counsel, Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, will represent the class of players. And now, SN’s conversation with Brosius, with a few questions from a phone interview in November. (Answers below edited for clarity.)SPORTING NEWS: A lot has changed since we started talking about these issues years ago. Wanted to see how you feel things have shifted from your perspective, especially in the past couple months. BROSHUIS: One thing that’s certainly changed is Major League Baseball has said they’re serious about increasing salaries now. We’ve been fighting for that for over five years now, and we don’t know what it’s going to look like, or if it’s going to come to fruition, but we certainly hope it does come to fruition because it’s long overdue. Thousands of other ballplayers hope so, as well. SN: Does this latest development, the threatened elimination of 42 minor-league teams, impact what you’re trying to do? BROSHUIS: I really do hope they’re serious about raising salaries, and I hope it’s a meaningful raise and not just a small raise. You take the Blue Jays, for instance, and even though they increased salaries by 50 percent last year, which is commendable, they took that first step on their own. That still means the salaries are below the poverty line for a lot of guys. And it still doesn’t do anything about spring training, when guys are working 60 or 70 hours per week and not getting paid at all.But even if you’re serious about raising minor-league salaries, you shouldn’t have to cut minor-league teams in order to do that. We aren’t talking about huge sums of money, with minor-league players suddenly getting rich. We’re just talking about a decent, livable wage in accordance with the same laws that McDonald’s and Walmart comply with. Surely Major League Baseball could find a way to do that without cutting 25 percent of its minor-league teams, and by extension, 25 percent of its minor-league players. SN: I’ll admit, it was jarring to hear the commissioner say at the Winter Meetings in San Diego that minor-league players “deserve to be paid fairly” after what’s happened the past few years. Do you feel like the salary thing might be a pawn in what baseball is trying to do, to reduce the number of minor-league teams? BROSHUIS: I hope they’re serious about (raising salaries), but you have to look at it from a historical perspective. It was just March of 2018 where they succeeded in getting an exemption from minimum-wage laws passed after spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress. So, I hope they are serious about raising salaries, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to cut teams.There are some things that are real concerns for players. For instance, when they talk about playing conditions. Some of those fields don’t have the best playing conditions, and they actually are unsafe at times. That needs to be addressed. And there are issues with scheduling. Currently, the rules between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball only require one day off every 30 days. So if the league schedules a day off on Day 28, then waits another 27 days to have a day off, you’ve played pretty much two months straight with only a day off. So something needs to be done about that, too. That just wears out the players. Some of the alignment that’s occurred with teams moving, that is a real thing. You have leagues that are too spread out, and sometimes you have teams like the Nationals that are stuck with a Triple-A partner in Fresno that, geographically, doesn’t make sense. So some realignment does make sense. Those are real issues that need to be addressed from the players’ perspective. But, again, it seems like you could address those things, I would hope, without cutting 25 percent of your teams. I think there are other reasons behind this, other than just stadium upgrades and paying players more. I think there’s more to it than that. SN: What was your first thought when you looked at that list of the 42 teams?BROSHUIS: What jumped out to me was that I played in a number of these towns, both as a member of a visiting team and the home team. The first place I played was in Salem, Ore., and I’m very fond of that area. The Northwest is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and to think that it would be deprived of baseball, for the most part, it’s surprising. For a lot of those towns, the closest major-league team is Seattle, and that’s a really far drive for those fans. A team like that, a league like that is an introduction and professional baseball, for better or worse, what professional baseball is all about. SN: I saw that Senator Sanders took a little batting practice after your meeting, so I’ll ask you this: Can Bernie Sanders hit a curveball? BROSHUIS: (laughs) They didn’t trust me throwing to him, so I wouldn’t know. It looked like he was trying to work gap-to-gap pretty good, though. He rolled over the first couple to the third baseman, but then he started showing some gap-to-gap power. I was impressed for a guy in his 70s. SN: Aside from his gap-to-gap power, what was your takeaway from your meeting and how seriously he’s taking this issue? BROSHUIS: He was very prepared. Like he is with a lot of things, he is very passionate about it, too. This is something that’s personal to him. He was the mayor in Burlington, Vt., when they got their minor-league team, and that’s one of the teams on the chopping block. He’s also a lifelong baseball fan, and when he says he’s outraged, you really do feel he’s outraged over it.There have been a lot of politicians who say they’re outraged over the plan to cut 42 minor-league baseball teams, but he’s the first one to take it a step further to say, “You’re right you need to pay minor-league players more, and there’s no excuse for not doing that in the past, and you shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cutting teams when you have the ability to pay those players a decent wage right now. You don’t need to be cutting minor-league teams in order to do it.” It’s great for him to support the players. SN: Realistically, how do you think this influx of political interest helps or hurts what you guys have been trying to do?BROSHUIS: From the perspective of the minor-league owners, there’s a reason they went public with it. There are things Congress can do that gives Congress a lot of leverage. That antitrust exemption is obviously very dear to Major League Baseball. They are the only sport that has that type of exemption, and a lot of what they do is modeled over having that exemption. Looking at it from the minor-league standpoint, the current minor-league wages would be illegal under antitrust laws, if not for the antitrust exemption they have. The only reason they can collude on (minor-league) salaries at this point, without having to go through a union, is because they have that antitrust exemption.That’s one thing, but there’s also the Save America’s Pastime Act that they passed a year-and-a-half ago, that Congress gifted that to them in the middle of the night in an omnibus spending bill. If Congress wanted to take that away from MLB, that gives a very powerful lever to Congress as well. So we certainly welcome politicians speaking out about this. To date, most politicians have been indifferent, at best, about the issues of minor-league players, and have far too often sided with ownership on this. We welcome the chance to speak to any other members of Congress on this, and educate them from the perspective of the players, because that perspective has been ignored for far too long. SN: I feel like I’ve heard that threat, “take away the antitrust exemption,” since I was a little kid. Is this a big enough issue to make that a realistic option? Could this be something like Al Capone’s taxes? BROSHUIS: It depends on how hard the two sides dig in. Now, both sides are taking pretty extreme positions, and they’re doing everything publicly, and they’re at each other’s throats. And if they dig in and they’re entrenched, and neither side will give ground and they can’t reach an agreement, then, yeah, I think there is a serious threat that Congress will get involved.I don’t think that will happen. They have 10 months to work this out. I think the most likely thing that will happen is that cooler heads are going to prevail, and they’ll sit down and hammer out a deal that works for both sides, and then this whole threat of Congressional investigation will go away. But right now, they are entrenched. The rhetoric is pretty high, when you’re saying you would just deal without the entire minor-league system and blow the whole thing up. Both sides need to take it down a notch.
AddThis ShareCONTACT: Mike WilliamsPHONE: 713-348-6728E-MAIL: [email protected] memory a game-changerJames Tour’s graphene device may make massive storage practicalA team at Rice University has determined that a strip of graphite only 10 atoms thick can serve as the basic element in a new type of memory, making massive amounts of storage available for computers, handheld media players, cell phones and cameras.In new research available online in Nature Materials, Rice professor James Tour and postdoctoral researchers Yubao Li and Alexander Sinitskii describe a solid-state device that takes advantage of the conducting properties of graphene. Tour said such a device would have many advantages over today’s state-of-the-art flash memory and other new technologies.Graphene memory would increase the amount of storage in a two-dimensional array by a factor of five, he said, as individual bits could be made smaller than 10 nanometers, compared to the 45-nanometer circuitry in today’s flash memory chips. The new switches can be controlled by two terminals instead of three, as in current chips.Two-terminal capability makes three-dimensional memory practical as graphene arrays can be stacked, multiplying a chip’s capacity with every layer, said Tour, Rice’s Chao Professor of Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science.Being essentially a mechanical device, such chips will consume virtually no power while keeping data intact – much the same way today’s e-book readers keep the image of a page visible even when the power is off.What distinguishes graphene from other next-generation memories is the on-off power ratio – the amount of juice a circuit holds when it’s on, as opposed to off. ”It’s huge — a million-to-one,” said Tour. ”Phase change memory, the other thing the industry is considering, runs at 10-to-1. That means the ‘off’ state holds, say, one-tenth the amount of electrical current than the ‘on’ state.”Current tends to leak from an ”off” that’s holding a charge. ”That means in a 10-by-10 grid, 10 ‘offs’ would leak enough to look like they were ‘on.’ With our method, it would take a million ‘offs’ in a line to look like ‘on,”’ he said. ”So this is big. It allows us to make a much larger array.” While generating little heat itself, graphene memory seems impervious to a wide temperature range, having been tested from minus 75 to more than 200 degrees Celsius with no discernable effect, Tour said. That allows graphene memory to work in close proximity to hot processors. Better still, tests show it to be impervious to radiation, making it suitable for extreme environments. Tour said the new switches are faster than his lab’s current testing systems can measure. And they’re robust. ”We’ve tested it in the lab 20,000 times with no degradation,” said Tour. ”Its lifetime is going to be huge, much better than flash memory.” Best of all, the raw material is far from exotic. Graphene is a form of carbon. In a clump it’s called graphite, which you spread on paper every time you use a pencil. The technology has drawn serious interest from industry, said Tour, who’s working on manufacturing techniques. He said it’s possible to deposit a layer of graphene on silicon or another substrate by chemical vapor deposition. ”Typically, graphene is very hard to think about fabricating commercially,” he said, ”but this can be done very easily by deposition. The same types of processes used right now can be used to grow this type of graphene in place.” The paper is available at www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nmat2331.html.