The MLBPA is standing with hotel workers getting a raw deal

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Major League Baseball has once again seen teams select a hotel with an ongoing labor issue during the postseason. Over the weekend, UNITE HERE Local 11, whose members are located in southern California and Arizona, sent out a press release explaining what’s going on. The short of it is that the hotel MLB selected to host a number of MLB teams during the postseason has failed to rehire many of its most senior workers which they had let go during the earlier stages of the pandemic. Business is back, but the jobs aren’t, at least, not for those with seniority and experience.

It goes beyond just that basic framing, though. These employees weren’t furloughed, with their health insurance kept intact, until things got better. They were fully let go, their health insurance cut off during a pandemic, while neighboring hotels managed to avoid doing either of those things:

In May, The Langham Pasadena fired many of its employees and then announced it would terminate their health insurance, leaving them with no guarantee they would be brought back and without insurance for their families amid the pandemic. Many of these workers had more than 10 years of seniority at the hotel. By contrast, nearby hotels such as the JW Marriott/Ritz Carlton LA Live and The Hilton Pasadena retained their employees and extended health insurance for laid-off workers.

The Langham Pasadena’s abrupt decision to fire workers during the pandemic moved the Pasadena City Council to pass a law in July that obligates hotels to offer employees their jobs when business returns. MLB will occupy the 383-room hotel for these playoff games. The 35 workers who sent the letter – who have more than 300 years of seniority – have yet to be called back.

The Langham Pasadena is in no hurry to bring back its fired workers even with the law recently passed by the city council, and this refusal to restaff even as the full shutdown has passed isn’t just exclusive to them, either: the Los Angeles Times published a story on all of the hotels in the region abusing the Paycheck Protection Program in order to receive a loan from the government meant to help them retain workers, but with enough loopholes in it that the money doesn’t need to be used for that purpose. You might recall that the Los Angeles Lakers applied for and were granted a PPP loan, before they realized that just because an NBA team qualified as a “small business” by the program’s ridiculous standards didn’t mean regular struggling folks wouldn’t be furious at them for taking that money.

It wasn’t just locally that a California bill passed guaranteeing workers this right to return to their jobs once business did. UNITE HERE’s press release explains that a California-wide version of the Pasadena bill is sitting on the desk of governor Gavin Newsom, who apparently has been too busy cosplaying as the “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this” meme during California wildfires to sign this worker-friendly bill. (There are pre-pandemic, pre-2020 wildfire stories all within very easy Googleable reach that long ago said Newsom needed to move to phase fossil fuels and drilling and fracking and so on out of California, so don’t be too proud of him for showing up to the party and realizing there was a problem after the house had already burned down.)

Anyway! This story has even more of an MLB connection than the fact the teams are going to be using this hotel very soon. The Major League Baseball Players Association spoke out in support of UNITE HERE Local 11’s plight:

Major League Players have long benefited from the excellent service provided by the experienced workers at the Langham Pasadena and are concerned by reports that the hotel has not rehired many of these workers now that they are resuming operations and will once again be hosting a number of MLB teams. Players stand in solidarity with these workers as they seek to protect their jobs under local law and we urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 3216 extending similar protections to hospitality and service workers statewide.

This is good to see. The MLBPA, for all the arguing we do about some of the decisions it makes and tactics it takes against MLB’s owners, are still a powerful, and visible, union. Newsom is the kind of governor who tends to only act when the spotlight is on him, so the MLBPA shining a spotlight on the fact he hasn’t yet signed this bill that is on his desk is the kind of thing that could get him to speed up the process.

It’s also the kind of move the MLBPA needs to be making more of in the future. MLB players labor for the bosses, who are constantly trying to find ways to keep profits from them, but the figures they’re working with are so large as to be difficult for your less famous or rich worker to find common ground with. If MLB’s players show up for these workers when they need the help and the attention on their campaigns and strikes and movements, though, then it becomes easier to see MLB players as similar to them, and as deserving of solidarity in the reverse direction when the players need that support in their own battles.

Last year, it was the PA supporting the New Era workers that were in danger of losing their jobs as New Era sought to close the unionized factory where the league’s hats were produced, in favor of non-union — read: cheaper — workers. This year, it’s these Pasadena hotel workers. This is a vast improvement over the 2018 postseason, in which the players didn’t fight to stay at hotels whose workers were not on strike. Now, there is an argument to be had about those workers and their union leadership not giving the PA a heads up about the strike so they could coordinate together to bring attention to the hospitality workers’ plight, but it’s important to consider, too, that those workers didn’t think of the PA as someone who could help them in that way. Actions like supporting New Era’s workers and supporting the fired hospitality workers of the Langham Pasadena, though, should help change that perception of the PA as somehow separate from other workers, and unwilling to stand in solidarity with them.

They’ll be stronger working together, and it looks like that’s what’s happening out in Pasadena. Now we wait to see if the hotel’s administrators and the governor listen.

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