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Volunteers Demand Pay for Major League FanFest

Courthouse News Service—Annie Youderian

Major League Baseball staffed its "lucrative, for-profit" 2013 All-Star FanFest with thousands of unpaid volunteers in violation of state and federal law, according to a federal class action.

Lead plaintiff John Chen says he and about 2,000 other volunteers worked FanFest, an interactive baseball theme park described as "baseball heaven on earth." They allegedly helped with hospitality, event logistics, community events and transportation for the 40 attractions included with admission, such as a home run derby and an all-star legends and celebrity softball game. The main event was an all-star game at Citi Field on July 16.

"Instead of paying them for their work, MLB, the world's preeminent professional baseball league with annual revenue of more than $7 billion, provided volunteers with 'a shirt, a cap and a cinch drawstring backpack,' free admission for the volunteer and one guest to FanFest, a water bottle and a baseball," the volunteers claim in Manhattan Federal Court.

By not paying its volunteers, they say, the Major Leagues deprived federal, state and local governments of "significant tax revenue" and denied volunteers "the ability to earn a fair day's wage for a fair day's work."

The volunteers say the labor arrangement "also excluded New Yorkers and many others who could not afford to work for free."

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"MLB could have easily afforded to pay its FanFest workers," they say.

FanFest infused the city's economy with $191.5 million, by the Major Leagues' own estimate, the lawsuit states.

"None of these millions of dollars, however, ended up in the pockets of the New Yorkers whom MLB recruited to provide the labor necessary to prepare and run FanFest and other All-Star Game events," volunteers say.

They demand back pay and an order barring the Major Leagues from "soliciting and accepting work from unpaid volunteers."

The class is represented by Justin Swartz with Outten & Golden in Manhattan.