PNC employees avert strike before Tuesday’s Pirates’ game

The deal hasn’t been ratified, and it has its issues, but a strike was at least temporarily averted.

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A strike was authorized in Major League Baseball, but you might have missed that news, since it wasn’t one that involved the players. Employees at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, authorized a strike and planned to picket outside of Tuesday’s game between the Pirates and Reds, but the strike ended up being averted due to a tentative deal reached with the club before any action beyond authorization could be taken. Strikes don’t have to happen to be effective, they just have to be a credible threat to be taken seriously.

And there wasn’t much the Pirates were going to be able to do on short notice when the ushers, ticket takers, and ticket sellers were showing up to picket outside of the stadium and explain to anyone trying to come to the game why they weren’t in their usual stations, ready to sell tickets or help visitors to their seats. So, a tentative agreement was reached, the strike was averted, and these employees will now vote on a deal that would go through 2025 and include retroactive pay for the 2022 season.

News broke that the strike was averted by the currently on-strike journalists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who are producing their work at Pittsburgh Union Progress. There’s a poetic beauty to that, yeah?

The tentative agreement is far from perfect, and maybe won’t even be voted into existence, given there are issues with the pay that the Pirates agreed to for the ushers, who will top out at just $13.10 per hour by the end of the deal. The $12.35 they’ll make in 2023 is a huge jump from the $9.35 they were making before, yes, but it’s still low in a world where the Fight for $15 minimum wage efforts have been going on for so long that $15 per hour is no longer a livable minimum wage.

Here’s something that stuck out to me as a real problem in this deal, and is a reason to not be too celebratory about the state of things:

[Eric] Dorman [President of the Pittsburgh Stadium Independent Employees Union] also said union representatives begrudgingly accepted the Pirates wage “pool” proposal in which new hires for all three positions represented by the union will make the ushers’ base pay.

Dorman said he hopes that by giving the Pirates some of what they wanted in this contract, the workers will be able to get more when it’s time to bargain again.

Considering ticket takers and ticket sellers would make $18.65 and $19 per hour, respectively, thanks to this new deal, new hires to those positions coming in at the base pay of the underpaid ushers is a move that makes absolutely no sense to me. I had to read it a few times just to be sure it actually said what I thought it was saying. This is how you end up with a two-tier union, which is not a positive for anyone besides management, which will gleefully pit employees from the separate tiers against each other in the future. I’d hope membership votes down the contract that introduces this system, but the allure of the lump sum of retroactive pay might be tempting, especially given how low pay was before. Long-term over short-term is the goal, and in the long-term, the Pirates aren’t going to budge like the union hopes, either. No MLB team would, but especially not this one, which happily pockets money it promises it doesn’t have and pretends the issue is the team’s location and media market when, in reality, the only problem is that the games the owner cares about aren’t taking place on the field.

Anyway, since there wasn’t a strike, we don’t have to wonder about what the Players Association might have done when faced with a game that wasn’t being picketed. I don’t mean the Reds and Pirates getting together to say they weren’t going to play the game or anything — not being able to strike while the collective bargaining agreement is active also means no sympathy strikes — but there’s always room to, say, picket alongside the striking workers before the game, for photo ops that’ll spread on social media and bring awareness to what’s going on, and so on. If another such strike authorization happens and actually occurs instead of being averted — or if we see the PNC’s employees voting down this deal and then making good on their threat to strike — it would be good to see Pirates’ players (and visiting ones) participating in what way they can beforehand.

They’re all union members, after all; just because they’re in different unions shouldn’t mean a thing. It’s actions like the ones described above that will convince unionized workers who aren’t making MLB player money that these dudes are alright, and just trying to get what’s rightfully theirs, the next time there’s a lockout, and the pay of ticket takers, ushers, concessioners, and more are also at risk because of it.

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