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Major League Baseball has mostly hit a point where, sometimes, players test positive for coronavirus, and everyone just moves on. The impacted players hit the injured list designated specifically for COVID-19, call-ups are made to fill the roster holes left by the virus, and everything continues otherwise unabated. It’s basically been treated like any other injury, which apparently works well enough for the players who are, by and large, vaccinated, but the normalization of how coronavirus works for them has helped obscure that those with less in the way of means and without the same spotlight are struggling and living in fear of contracting the virus.
Look no further than concessions workers for Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. These workers, who are part of UNITE HERE Local 2 that represents thousands of workers in the San Francisco and San Mateo areas of California, will hold a vote on Saturday prior to the Giants’ game against the Dodgers, to determine whether or not they’re going on strike. Their demands? Hazard pay, and recognition from the Giants that they have helped to create an unsafe work environment for them, one where COVID protocols are not enforced — hence the hazard pay demand. More than 20 concessions workers have contracted coronavirus since returning to work at Oracle Park back in June.
The demand for hazard pay is for retroactive hazard pay, as well. These workers haven’t received a raise in years, and the conditions they’ve worked in are, in fact, hazardous ones, considering the pandemic is ongoing. 48 Hills reported on this earlier in the week, in a piece on the demand for safer working conditions at Oracle Park:
…the last wage increase food service workers got was in “April… of 2018.” The Giants never lifted a finger to help provide health care to laid-off ballpark food service workers during 2020, although the pandemic was raging. The Union has demanded a $3 per hour retroactive hazard-type pay increase, and even that demand is incredibly modest compared to what we have suffered. Especially considering that the fortune of Charles Johnson, the controversial chief owner of the Giants, increased by $815 million from March 2020 to January 2021, commanding a fortune of something north of $5 billion.
The Giants, like other MLB teams in 2020, had to be pressured into actually setting aside funds for concessions workers when the season was delayed and their jobs were just not available to be performed: the $1 million per team that MLB forced its clubs to put towards stadium workers was for the actual off-field employees of the team, not for anyone working in food service or what have you.
The union’s demand, and the workers’ anger, goes beyond just the hazard pay, however. The Giants have refused to engage with the concessions workers at all, according to the union. While these concessions workers perform their jobs at the home of the Giants, they’re not technically employees of the team: they’re contractors working for Bon Appetit, which has a contract in place with the Giants. However, striking workers would cause significant problems for the Giants, which in turn would, in theory, get the Giants to put pressure on Bon Appetit: the union, by striking, could force the Giants to actually enforce the coronavirus protocols in place at Oracle Park, while getting Bon Appetit to give them the $3 per hour bump in hazard pay that they’re demanding for putting themselves in harm’s way in order to help fans have a good time at a baseball game. The Giants, clearly, have the cash to increase their contract with Bon Appetit if that’s what’s necessary to get the workers their hazard pay. That’s part of why the concession workers center the team with these demands: even if they are employees of a different company, the money still essentially comes from the team.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to the difference in a Major League Baseball player getting coronavirus compared to a concessions worker. Even the players making the minimum salary are pulling in $570,500 per season, and they have health insurance, too. I’m not saying dealing with coronavirus is easy for them, because that’s not how a deadly virus works, but they’re better-positioned to handle the financial fallout — and can afford to miss time at work — in a way that the concessions workers simply are not.
Leaving aside even the obvious pay disparity here between high-level professional athletes and the folks who work the stadium during the games played by said athletes, consider the differences in health insurance for a moment. MLB players are fully insured. These concessions workers at Oracle Park, who are employed by Bon Appetit, only quality for their employee health insurance if they work 10 events per month. There are fewer events being held during the pandemic: there are just nine events scheduled for September, and for future months, too, which means none of the concessions workers will still qualify for their employer’s insurance if that threshold remains at 10. If any of them catches coronavirus while on the job — a job they have to perform in unsafe conditions since the Giants are not enforcing the coronavirus protocols they are supposed to — they won’t have health insurance to cover the cost of their medical care. There’s no need to say this in a fancy way: that’s pretty fucked up.
Along with the hazard pay and the demand for protocols to actually be followed, UNITE HERE Local 2’s workers are asking for the event threshold to be temporarily dropped from 10 to nine, to reflect the nature of the schedule they’re even capable of working. These all seem like sensible and logical demands, no? Hazard pay hasn’t been paid even though the conditions are hazardous, and it will soon be impossible for any of these workers to maintain their health insurance thanks to the ongoing pandemic reducing the number of events they could even work.
We’ll know soon enough if there is going to be a strike, as the vote is on Saturday, and it’s worth remembering, too, that the season for the Giants is likely to go beyond just this last month of the regular season, given they’re currently tied for first place in the National League West with the Dodgers. This isn’t just something San Francisco can wait out with ease, but is something they’re going to have to engage with, either by moving to avoid a strike by finally speaking with the workers, or by figuring out how they’re going to handle games with fans when there isn’t a concessions staff in place. The quickest way to solve the latter problem, of course, would be to do the former.
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