Paying MLB’s stadium workers during COVID-19 suspension isn’t ‘complicated’

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one.

Major League Baseball would like you to know something: paying stadium workers during the postponement of the 2020 regular season is going to be “complicated.” How do we know this? Because that’s what was reported on Sunday by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

Major-league teams play 81 home games, as opposed to 41 in the NBA and NHL. Their parks also are larger than the indoor arenas used for basketball and hockey, requiring a greater number of game-day employees.

“It’s more complicated,” said one executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I think the rush to a decision is probably not very wise. We’ve never seen anything like this. And we do not know where it’s going.

“If we knew we were going to start on May 15, it’s easy to make some decisions. We have no idea. … It’s really hard to make a blanket statement. If we had 80 percent of our revenue in hand, it’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll pay those last five or six games.’ But when you’re looking at 162, in a business that might not have any revenue coming in, it’s very, very different.”

A team’s game-day staff typically might include ushers, concession workers, security personnel, cleaning staff and interns on the baseball and business sides. With many clubs, outside companies employ at least some of those workers.

Reporting what this anonymous executive said is perfectly fine, as it gives us insight into what people in the game in these positions are thinking and feeling about the idea of paying stadium workers their lost wages at a time when there are no games. The problem here is that Rosenthal doesn’t push back at all in his own analysis of the situation: if anything, he sides with the idea that it’s “complicated” to pay these workers their lost wages, because there are more of them and more games to pay for.

What does the length of the season and the number of workers have to do with anything, though, with the kinds of numbers we’re talking about? Do you think concessions workers are doing better than minimum wage, and if they are, so much better that being paid for the hours they’ll lose while the season is postponed would ruin the finances of a professional baseball team? Rosenthal reports that it will cost the owners of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks $3.3 million to cover the costs of the 14 games the 1,200 United Center arena workers will miss because of the suspension of the NBA and NHL seasons.

Some of those workers are definitely making more than others, as they’re office/administrative staff for the arena and not game-day workers — $3.3 million split up by 1,200 workers and 14 games is just shy of $200 per worker per game, and the people selling hot dogs aren’t getting $200 per day from their bosses even if they have health insurance — but that doesn’t change anything here. MLB teams can afford to pay these folks. They just don’t consider it a priority, and they don’t want to commit to anything in case the postponement of the season is longer than a few weeks, aka will cost them more than whatever amount will earn them goodwill in headlines in the next couple of days.

There isn’t an owner in MLB who can’t afford to pay these workers. Did you know Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio has a net worth of $700 million? Or that the Rays’ Stuart Sternberg is worth $800 million? They’re the 20th and 19th-richest owners in MLB, respectively: everyone ahead of them is a billionaire, with the Giants’ Charles Johnson topping the list at over $6 billion: even the perpetually cheap Bob Nutting comes in at over $1 billion! Yes, paying stadium workers while no tickets are being sold is probably going to cost these owners some money out of their pocket, and as we know from [gestures at everything they do in every situation], that concept is anathema to them. However, they won’t lose as much paying their workers as those workers would lose if no one takes care of them while they’re in this precarious, unavoidable situation.

The people with the power to stop that from happening are pretending they can’t, or that they might not be able to, because, as you see, it is “complicated.” And the guy who got that scoop didn’t push back even a little bit in his story on it, which will only lead to these owners continuing to feel like they don’t have to do anything to help their workers. That is, unless enough people call bullshit on this, like they are in other industries and in select states, forcing the people with the means to literally spread the wealth.

Now, it’s not every single team who is going with that excuse, and that might be what forces the rest of the bunch to do the right thing, whether they want to or not. The Blue Jays and Tigers are both working on plans to pay stadium workers, and not coincidentally, they’re working with the other sports teams in their cities, too, sports that are a bit ahead of MLB’s pacing here, and without the excuses about how complicated paying workers may or may not be. (In Detroit’s case, the same people own all of that, so of course they’re working with themselves.)

Generally, though, this is the situation. MLB teams aren’t paying their minor-league players, and have sent them home without per diems, without answers, and without hope. They’re floating the idea that paying stadium workers is maybe too “complicated” to happen, while saying that it’s on the list of things to eventually figure out, just not much of a priority at the moment. The only ones who might end up paid without too much of a struggle in this situation are the MLB players themselves, and even that’s not guaranteed. They have a shot, though, because they’re unionized, which means MLB has to make them a priority. For all of those without such protections, though, life is only going to get harder over the next weeks and maybe months.

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.