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Are Amateur Athletes “Employees”? Legislators Prepare to Vote on Labor Status of Youth Sports Teams

amatuer sportsDebates over child labor laws have involved a new group in Washington State: amateur sports teams. A new labor bill before the House — HB 1930 — specifies that athletes playing in an amateur sports league would not count as employees, as defined under the Minimum Wage Act, Industrial Welfare Act, and the Industrial Safety and Health Act.

This proposal was drafted following a complaint filed with the State Department of Labor and Industries last year, which accused amateur sports teams of violating child labor laws by recruiting 16- and 17-year-old players to work with no pay. The sports teams and league (headed by the Seattle Thunderbirds ice hockey team) responded by arguing that players are provided with room and board, plus college scholarships — all of which should count as fair compensation.

Last week, just 4 hours before a Seattle Thunderbirds game, the team president Russ Farwell swapped his ice skates for business shoes to make his case at the Capitol.  Speaking before the State House committee on Labor, he noted that the leagues players are “100 percent amateurs.”  Along with three other team presidents from Everett, Tri-Cities and Spokane, the coaches and presidents spoke in support of HB 1930 just as it was moving into deliberation before the committee.

Farwell and Gary Gelinas, President of Everett’s Silvertips, maintain that if Washington state does not amend the definition, they may be forced to relocate their hockey franchises to different states, since they could not keep 16- and 17-year-old players on the roster.

The committee could vote to forward the bill as early as this week.

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Emery Reddy