MLB’s season has restarted, but not for struggling stadium workers

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Major League Baseball began its season last month, which meant television revenues could start rolling in once more. Owners and investors will be paid, players will be paid, coaches and trainers and clubhouse attendants and grounds crew will all be paid, too. Stadium workers, though, aren’t working these games: without fans, there was no need to bring them back into the fold just yet. Unlike with the minor-league players MLB teams are paying during the pandemic, though — at least during the timeframe their regular season would have happened — not all of these stadium workers are being helped out by their clubs.

And now that the $600 per week the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has run out, that lack of assistance is even more apparent and harmful. Throw in that the Senate just left session without a sequel stimulus plan in place, and won’t be back to ignore or vote down the next plan until after Labor Day despite a literal pandemic impacting people who don’t make all the money they’ll ever need from corporate bribes and lobbyists, and times are even worse for folks like those who work at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

Those stadium workers will be demonstrating outside of the Giants’ stadium on Friday before their series with the A’s begins, to bring attention to the lack of attention being paid to them by their local MLB club. UNITE HERE Local 2 sent out a press release announcing the action earlier this week:

“Oracle Park workers are struggling desperately to survive, but the Giants have refused to even negotiate about supporting them during this pandemic,” said Anand Singh, President of UNITE HERE Local 2. “The Giants and their billionaire owner Charles Johnson have more money than anyone could ever need, but they’re abandoning concessions workers who’ve served for decades. San Francisco’s home team should do better.”

“The Giants make a big show of saying Black Lives Matter, but they’re not treating the workers like we matter at all,” said Billie Feliciano, a concessions worker at Giants games since 1974 and member of UNITE HERE Local 2. “It’s real hard times, but after almost forty years of serving the fans, the Giants are leaving me with nothing. The Giants should put their money where their mouth is and show Black workers that we matter when we need them the most.”

“It’s so shameful that those rich people at the Giants don’t care about the workers,” said Connie Sarmiento, a cashier at Oracle Park and member of UNITE HERE Local 2. “I’m a single mom, and I normally work three jobs to support my kids, but I’ve lost all of them because of the pandemic. The Giants will still make millions this season, but my family doesn’t have enough to survive. Even after all our years of service, the Giants have no mercy.”

UNITE HERE has been on this from the beginning of the pandemic, as they are the union that represents a significant number of stadium workers across the country, whether teams are contracted to titans of the industry like Aramark or, in the Giants’ case, are partnered with Bon Appetit. It is wild that, in August, with a season ongoing, the Giants won’t even negotiate with over 1,000 out-of-work concessions workers given there is no assistance coming from elsewhere. But the energy surrounding the need for stadium workers to be helped out during a pandemic faded, and without public pressure to act otherwise, these pro teams never spend a dime they don’t feel they have to, either.

The last time stadium workers were covered in this space was back in April, when teams like the Phillies were outright ignoring their concessioners while the Mets made theirs all ineligible for their assistance program. In that piece, the relationship between concessioners and the teams and the caterers they had contracts with was explained, but to save you a click, Aramark (or Bon Appetit, in this case) signs a contract with a pro team, so the concessioners aren’t direct employees, but they are paid with the money the caterer receives from their lucrative contract with a pro team, and their place of employment is the stadium or arena the team plays at. They make the live sports experience as we previously knew it possible, and they tend to be among the most vulnerable employees associated with a professional sports team: no one is getting rich working a stadium kitchen or selling popcorn in the stands.

Back in April, the Giants pledged $700,000 in funds for concessioners: this was separate from the $1 million pledge that all 30 teams made for stadium workers, a group that did not include concessioners, a not inconsequential fact left out of most of the glowing coverage of those pledges. For some reason, though, the issue appears closed to them now, even with the pandemic ongoing, and assistance from elsewhere nowhere to be found.

Now, maybe it shouldn’t have to have fallen to the Giants (or any of these teams) to make things right for these workers. That’s a fair point in a vacuum, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where the Senate bailed to go on vacation for about a month instead of figuring out how to replace the CARES Act, which in itself wasn’t as robust a solution as was necessary during a pandemic, just like the one-time $1,200 stimulus check wasn’t, either. In this world where the government has failed everyone except for CEOs with their plan for pandemic assistance, the Giants are owned by a man, Charles Johnson, who could afford to pay every concession worker in MLB without the absence of those funds looking like more than a rounding error in his net worth.

No one is asking Johnson, who is worth an estimated $4.8 billion, to do that, of course: he should just pay the 1,000 stadium workers who do, in a normal season, make attending a Giants’ game enjoyable, what they would have had coming to them if not for coronavirus. It is, in the grand scheme of things, a very small amount of money for someone whose net worth can be rounded up to $5 billion, but would change everything for the out-of-work concessioners whose quality of life have been harmed far more by the pandemic than Johnson and his ilk ever could be.

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