Friday, March 20, 2020

Reversed - MiLB Umpires Get Spring Financial Relief

A day after our report on Minor League Baseball's purported instruction that its umpires pay money to the league in the wake of Spring Training's COVID-19 prompted cancellation, MiLB, after consultation with MLB, changed its mind about the per diem issue and enforcement of the unemployment clause in the umpires-MiLB collective bargaining agreement.

Thursday, we remarked on the treatment disparity between minor league players, whom MLB's March 19 press release stated would receive allowances through (at least) the cancelled Spring Training period, and the umpires, who at the time had been ordered to write checks to the league office to account for per diem advances issued just days before professional baseball suspended operations.
Related PostViral Insult - Umpires Allegedly Ordered to Pay MiLB (3/19/20).

Minor League umps can now keep their cash.
24 hours later, it appears that MiLB's original call to prevent umpires from keeping their Spring Training allowances has been overturned, bringing the policy in line with MLB's announcement in regard to minor league players.

In addition to allowing MiLB Spring Training umpires to keep their advanced per diem payments, the reversed decision also purportedly includes an agreement to waive, with certain limitation, the unemployment clause in the CBA.

Instead of the previous posture that filing a claim for unemployment insurance or compensation based on MiLB's suspended operations and lack of work would effectively tender that umpire's resignation from affiliated baseball, MiLB Umpire Development will now reportedly allow its umpires in full-season leagues (e.g., Class-A, Double-A, Triple-A) to file for unemployment as of Minor League Baseball's originally-scheduled Opening Day (April 9).

Umps out of school or in short ball will wait.
Because short-season umpires (Rookie ball and so-called "Short-A") would not have reported until their respective leagues kicked off later in the summer, those umpires remain bound by the unemployment clause until their originally-scheduled report date (or what it originally would have been), upon which time they may become eligible for unemployment clause relief, just as the full season umpires will be starting April 9.

Naturally, all parties involved hope that will not become necessary as baseball hopes to get going before the dog days of summer are upon us.

The League also purportedly increased per-game pay for Spring Training games, for those minor league umpires assigned to MLB games, and all umpires scheduled for full MLB Spring Training (see below link for a list of Spring invitees and call-ups) received appropriate compensation.
Related Post2020 MLB Spring Training Umpire Roster (2/28/20).

Video as follows:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Viral Insult - Umpires Allegedly Ordered to Pay MiLB

Minor League Baseball purportedly asked its umpires to write checks to the league office as umps remain out of work, the opposite of the cash flow direction MiLB is taking with its players. Whereas MLB will pay players and major league umpires remain under contract, the story is different in Minor League Baseball, where players will get some help as MiLB's umpire staff remains in a holding pattern—under contract and not technically unemployed, yet unable to go to work, and, now, allegedly asked to pay their employer or risk losing their baseball jobs.

*UPDATE*: Following this article's publication, Minor League Baseball reversed its decision and allowed umpires to keep their Spring-issued per diems. MiLB has also waived the unemployment clause of the CBA referred to in the original article below. The updated article with MiLB's reversed decision is available here: Reversed - MiLB Umpires Get Spring Financial Relief (3/20/20).

Earlier this week, some parent clubs—such as the San Diego Padres—made the independent decision to pay their minor league players' Spring Training allowances through MiLB's originally-scheduled Opening Day of April 8, 2020, but MLB's March 19 announcement of interim support for MiLB players extends the decision league-wide and authorizes "a lump sum equal to the allowances that would have been paid through April 8th."

MiLB umpires are left in the lurch.
For illustrative purposes, the San Diego Tribute indicates that a standard minor league ST player's per diem totals approximately $160-per-week, which in lump sum fashion through April 8 could amount to about $500-650 per player. MLB is reportedly considering further compensation for players to account for delays after April 8.

However, minor league umpires—who earn a monthly salary ranging from just $2,000 to $3,900 during the season and whose per diems run in the mid-two-digits (about $64/day in Triple-A for 2020, per MiLB's website)—remain waiting, just as they had when MLB suspended operations and cancelled Spring Training on March 12.
Related PostMLB Suspends Operations - Defining a Delay (3/12/20).

Waiting to see if they'll receive that paltry salary, much less an allowance. Waiting to see if and when they'll be able to return to work. Waiting for confirmation as to employment status in what can best be described as a "zero hour schedule" equivalency.

Stock photo of baseball and money dot PNG.
All while hoping to continue chasing that big league dream...someday.

Umpires Ordered to Pay MiLB: Minor League Baseball has already hinted to its umpires how that "allowance" portion of compensation may go, purportedly instructing its umpires to return per diem advances to the league office or risk losing their jobs if and when the season kicks off.

MiLB allegedly sent advance per diem payments to some umpires earlier in March, before MLB formally suspended operations, and those are the payments the league purportedly wants back (rather than, say, allowing the umpires to hold onto them while times remain uncertain).

Some states have expanded unemployment insurance operations to include employees who, while technically remaining employed, have lost hours due to COVID-19. For instance, employees in California may be eligible for benefits under that state's "reduced hours" benefit. Naturally, this is not a country-wide policy.

However, MiLB Umpires Could Be Fired if They File: According to the minor league umpires' collective bargaining agreement with the league, which obviously was created in a world when there was no global pandemic, filing for unemployment is tantamount to resigning. So while these umpires can legally file a claim, doing so would, for all intents and purposes, end their time in professional baseball or could be interpreted as such.

Court is not usually on an umpire's mind.
In other words, if a minor league umpire files for unemployment insurance—even while drawing a $0 salary from MiLB and even while being ordered to pay money to MiLB—the league can, under the terms of the CBA, consider that as a resignation, even if individual states such as California specifically allow employees to file a virus-prompted "reduced hours" UI claim.

While laws exist regarding EEOC or, in this case, UI-based retaliation, attempting to navigate the waters of whether a world-wide virus scare and federal emergency supersedes an existing CBA is likely a drawn-out legal battle that an aspiring big league umpire wouldn't dare take on.

What is a Minor League Umpire to do? | Video as follows: