Dodgers’ stadium workers protest, threaten strike

Dodgers’ stadium workers — not the concessioners from last year — are threatening a strike while working under an expired contract.

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Back in April, stadium workers at the Pirates’ PNC Park threatened to go on strike if their demands weren’t met. The Pirates had stopped negotiating with these employees, so this was the last recourse available to the ushers, ticket takers, and ticket sellers: the team averted the strike by reaching a tentative deal before it was set to occur, and while I didn’t love said deal, the threat at least got the team to respond.

Now, Dodgers’ stadium workers will try their luck with a similar tactic, which also follows Dodger Stadium concession workers successfully negotiating a new deal in 2022. Those workers, part of UNITE HERE, threatened to strike the All-Star Game, which would have been a serious issue for the Dodgers as hosts, given the magnitude of the midsummer classic on the schedule. The strike threat convinced someone on the management side to get back to the table, whether it was Compass/Levy, the concessioners that employ the union members, or someone from the Dodgers screaming in someone from Compass/Levy’s ear about it since it was going to impact them — either way, it worked.

There’s no All-Star Game to pin a strike threat around this season, but these other Dodgers’ stadium workers, who are employed directly by the team like those of the Pirates and are part of the SEIU USWW, are still planning to strike next month if the state of negotiation with the Dodgers don’t change. Their last collective bargaining agreement expired at the beginning of the year, and they’ve now been working for months without a new contract: it’s pretty obvious, given a strike threat, that the team isn’t engaging seriously enough, or in enough good faith, in bargaining.

Per the Los Angeles Times:

The workers, according to SEIU USWW officials, are asking for a wage raise of 43% to 45% over five years and an increase in the employer’s healthcare contribution from the Dodgers. The union said it is representing approximately 500 ushers, groundskeepers, security officers, and other stadium workers in the negotiations. The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Friday.

Union spokesman Sebastian Silva said the lowest-paid ushers and janitors earn $17.28 per hour and the lowest-paid security workers earn $19.48 an hour, with differentials for length of service. Part-time groundskeepers make $19.80 per hour and full-time groundskeepers receive $31.72 per hour. Silva said most union members are seasonal employees.

There’s a clear split here in wages, the kind the Pirates were hoping to institute with the deal reached with their own stadium workers, and one that can’t be avoided since it already exists in Los Angeles. But the ushers, groundskeepers, et al are hoping to close the gap a bit, at least: there’s no reason why the part-time workers should make so much less per hour than the full-time ones, given they’re doing the same work, but that’s the deal that’s been negotiated and needs to be improved upon.

I don’t love this quote from the chief union steward, Irene Aguilar, who was hopefully just joking around a little:

“And before — I’ve been here long enough to know the O’Malleys — we were a family. We used to have a lot of things given to us. You know, the Dodgers in first place, they would pass out ice cream. And we no longer get that. Our front office still does, [but] we no longer get that. Little things like that make us feel like family. So since they’re not doing that anymore, well then, you know what, let’s get the wages.”

Please don’t believe that “family” nonsense and that some ice cream justifies not being paid enough. Again, maybe Aguilar is just kind of joking — “we’re not getting the free ice cream anymore, now Hulk angry” — but this is a sentiment that’s worked (and works) too well in corporate America. Pizza parties instead of quality healthcare options, pool tables in the office instead of annual increases, etc. Those things aren’t comparable, but management hopes that feeling of “family” will keep you from feeling like you’re in a position to ask for more. Threatening a strike (and being unionized in the first place) leads me to believe that this isn’t actual Aguilar (or the union’s) attitude on the matter, but then again, I really didn’t like that workers deal with the Pirates. So. It’s at least worth commenting on the lines that closed the Times article.

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Dodgers take these threats seriously, if at all. They need all of these employees to get by, to make day-to-day stadium operations work, but the strike threat is also for next month, which gives them a lot of time to put the squeeze on in the interim or hope some desperation starts to seep through any cracks in the 500 unionized workers. The two sides do return to the table on Friday; maybe there will be more of a sense of urgency from the club, now that this is a story, and not just them quietly playing hardball in bargaining with workers many people aren’t thinking about beyond the moment they see them in person at the park. They’ve got a Los Angeles Times’ story now, though, so they’re visible even from outside of the stadium, and that might change the calculus for the Dodgers, if only a little.

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