On AQI, solidarity, and scabs

Something has to be done that treats dangerous AQI with the gravity it deserves.

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When will Major League Baseball games set to be played in dangerous air quality conditions be regularly canceled instead of becoming a debate every time out? Maybe it’s best not to ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to. What we do know, however, is that Thursday’s contest between the Pirates and Padres in Pittsburgh was delayed due to the poor Air Quality Index, and then eventually played.

We’re going to have two stories converge into one here, so just bear with me. Jason Mackey, the Pirates’ beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published a story on the delay and the game on Thursday. That story won’t be linked to here, because the Post-Gazette is on strike, and has been for months — so yes, McKay continuing to write for the Post-Gazette (along with other portions of the sports desk there) is scab behavior and should be treated as such. What I can link to, though, is McKay’s tweet on a quote that didn’t make it into his story.

One [Andrew] McCutchen quote that didn’t make my story: “If the players all came together and said, ‘We’re not playing.’ They’re not going to play the game.”

Why is it not surprising that the scabbing beat writer didn’t think that a veteran like McCutchen insisting that the players have the power to make sure games aren’t played in these poor conditions if only they show some solidarity wasn’t worth putting into the story? Or that it wasn’t the story on its own? It was worth it in both cases, and obviously so! I don’t think you need to write up a newsletter on sports labor for that to be the case.

That the Post-Gazette doesn’t just have scabs, but scab reporters who were part of the Post-Gazette union crossing the picket line to keep working for the paper during the strike, is a huge mess that hasn’t been fully untangled. But it’s especially important to not support that desk, considering sports coverage drives so much of local journalism. You’re crossing a picket line if you do, same as the people still writing sports stories for that paper.

So no, don’t read the Post-Gazette, don’t go searching out McKay’s original story to see how the McCutchen quote could have fit in there: the non-scabs from the Gazette, the ones who are on strike, are publishing stories at Pittsburgh Union Progress, and if they had gotten that quote from McCutchen then they surely would have known what to do with it and why it mattered. They understand a little something about solidarity, especially given they’ve received so little of it even from some of their own colleagues.

As for what McCutchen actually said, yes, it’s true: if the players did come together and just say, “hey, we’re not sacrificing ourselves in this dangerous air to play in front of fans that shouldn’t be out in this mess, either,” then the game wouldn’t happen. Players can’t strike while a collective bargaining agreement is active, either, but I imagine MLB wouldn’t find much sympathy if they decided to pursue action against the Players Association for players maybe technically violating the CBA by saying enough is enough, we need to figure out a plan for when the air is like this besides hours of debate waiting to know if it’s happening or not. Wildcat strikes might be illegal, but when deployed correctly and with the right support, you can get away with them. If players got together with stadium employees and concessioners and union broadcast crew on a given day and just shut the whole place down due to the fact no one should be at the stadium at all, well, maybe something good would come out of those kinds of shocks to the lethargic system.

Of course, the players all being on McCutchen’s side in this is kind of a longshot, too, considering that we are talking about a group that didn’t see the big deal about playing games during a pandemic, that has already had too many players do too much talking this year that made it seem like they believed the air wasn’t so bad at all or they could just toughen up like big manly men about it. But it’s nice to have a dream, you know? While this wasn’t part of the new collective bargaining agreement, I do wish the two sides would go back to the table to discuss a plan that treated this with more seriousness than they do a potential rain delay or rainout.

A dangerously high AQI is bad for everyone — players, fans, stadium workers, anyone who is at this event, and especially those who are outdoors during it. And yet, seeing one is treated kind of like a storm that might pass through, with the idea being that the show must go on here, even though it really doesn’t have to. And figuring out a solution that protects everyone who would be exposed to this dangerous air should be more of a priority with every passing day, because it’s not as if the shifting climate is going to result in fewer days like this one in the future. At some point, this isn’t abnormal weather, these aren’t abnormal conditions, but they’re instead a normal part of existence, and one that has to be accounted for like that.

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