John Chen, a volunteer for the 2013 MLB FanFest in New York City, is suing MLB for unpaid wages since performed “typical duties and responsibilities of an employee, but got unpaid.” Also of note, Chen will be represented by the same law firm that successfully won the case against 20th Century Fox to pay their interns since they were essentially “employees.” This case so many layers, let’s take a closer look.
It clearly states that Chen was a volunteer and he chose this and agreed to it. Volunteers are supposed to work for free, no matter who you worked for. The interns had a case because New York state does have standards for interns for for-profit companies. There is no real guideline for volunteers. Instead, companies can pay for expenses for food, housing, transportation or anything that relates to work. If Chen proves that MLB did an inadequate job accommodating his volunteer position, he might have a case.
I’m with MLB that Chen agreed to be a volunteer for FanFest and shouldn’t have been compensated. However, Chen should not looked into monetary at face value, but look at the intrinsic value. Chen lawyer’s states his client worked for a total of 17 hours. Then the following:
“Instead of paying them for their work, MLB, the world’s preeminent professional baseball league with annual revenue of more than seven billion dollars, 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.”
It also states that volunteers had a chance to win one pair of tickets to the All-Star Game if they work any three shifts. If you do the math, 17 hours times the minimum wage ($7.25) comes to $123.25. I don’t think the value of a shirt, cap, a very thin backpack, a water bottle, a baseball, and free admission to FanFest adds up to $123.25. That means one (or two) volunteer(s), out of 2,000, had their intrinsic value over $123.25 with the addition to the game. In this case, I think Chen’s lawyers still need to focus on the accommodating part.
It should be noted that MLB used to be a nonprofit until 2007 when new regulations state that nonprofits have to disclosed salary information of their executives. MLB bunted on that (pun intended). This is important because since they’re a corporation and their headquarters is in New York City, MLB is required to pay their interns, while the NFL, NHL, and PGA can have unpaid interns they’re still a nonprofit.
I don’t have all the information and I only know what is coming from the wires, but in my opinion, volunteer happens in all areas, including corporations. Chen agreed to be volunteer, hence he should not be paid. However, if Chen and his lawyers can prove MLB did a poor job to accommodate his position, then Chen deserves to get something out of it.
By the face of it, this case is about money and fair value. To me, the case is really about treating your volunteers. Personally, I want to volunteer at FanFest but I want to know if I get to meet any all-stars or hall-of-famers. If MLB can’t provide that to the people who help make the event go, then what’s the point of volunteering for MLB?