A day after the news broke about possible unfair financial restrictions on minor league umpires, the MiLB has announced they are changing their policies regarding per diems and filing for unemployment. Under the new parameters, minor league umpires will keep the per diems issued to them earlier in the spring and can now file for unemployment without risking their job eligibility. They must wait until the day their season would have started to file, however, so most minor league umpires won’t be able to file until April 9. Shorter seasoned leagues will have to wait longer.
Personally, I’m very happy to see that the minor league umpires are being taken care of during this crisis. There’s no word on an increase of the dismal pay rate for the regular season though, so I leave it with sentiments from the original story:
Hey MLB. Pay minor league umpires.
The MLB has stepped up and worked out compensation for minor leaguers and those who work at the stadiums who would otherwise be left unemployed.
The only folks so far left out in the cold? Minor league umpires.
Brought to the public’s attention by Gil Imber of Close Call Sports, the MiLB has reportedly asked umpires who received their per diems in advance to pay back the money when spring training was cancelled or risk losing their job when play does start again. As of yet, there is no publicly stated plan in place for minor league umpires to receive compensation while they are out of work.
The real kicker? Because of their CBA, filing for unemployment is tantamount to resigning their job, meaning if they want to remain on the active roster, they cannot file for unemployment.
Depending on where they live, some umpires might be able to get around this. Federal law has expanded their “unemployment” definition to include having “an employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work.” Some states, California included, have embraced that definition. Federal law has also changed to allow explicitly that an employee does NOT have to quit their job to receive benefits.
If the MiLB holds minor league umpires to their CBA, they might be breaking federal guidelines.
The MLBUA, the most powerful umpire union in the country, unfortunately has no play here. Most minor league umpires fall under the Association of Minor League Umpires, the union responsible for umpires in 16 of the current minor leagues. Also, as far as I can tell, they have not made any policy updates as regarding the shutdown of baseball. Umpire development falls completely under the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, AKA, Minor League Baseball.
It’s also worth mentioning that the players and umpires in independent leagues like the Frontier League and the Atlantic League won’t be covered under any of the current MLB or MiLB compensation plans.
I’m not sure anyone thinks it’s acceptable to not pay the minor league umpires. The hold up might come down to who actually writes the checks at a time like this.
If the MLB is paying for minor league players salaries during this time, it only make sense for them to pay for minor league umpire salaries as well.
Minor league umpire schedules are notoriously rough, with long driving hours, bad hotels, and even worse food. About $64 a day in Triple A and even less in lower leagues is all umpires have to live on per day. Salaries top out at about $4k per month in Triple A but most are paid closer to $2k/month. For lower level leagues can be significantly less. And even if four grand a month sounds like a lot, they are only paid only when baseball is actually being played. Most minor leagues have shorter seasons than the majors, some of them significantly shorter, meaning they only get paid for a few months out of the year. That means even the highest paid umpires only take home around $20k a year, which, if they have a family and kids, is considered beneath the poverty line in the United States. It’s even worse when you factor in lodging and travel, which umpires have to pay for themselves, hence the paltry per diem. Most umpires spend the entirety of their careers in the minor leagues and even those who do make it to the bigs spend at least eight or more years in the minors before getting the call.
If minor league players deserve a higher salary, so do minor league umpires. And they certainly shouldn’t have to pay back what little money they have received or go without unemployment just to keep their place on the field during a global pandemic.
Hey MLB. Pay minor league umpires.