Baseball is back, and I guess that’s nice. But it’s not so nice at all for one group of people—the nearly 40,000 stadium workers who won’t have jobs because there are no fans to be served and catered to. These people—some of whom work part-time, but some full-time throughout the year for different teams playing different sports in the same city—are just out of luck.
For a column back in May, I spoke with Aisha Johnson, a stadium worker for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Eagles, and a shop steward for her Unite-Here local. Cleaning up after Phillies games and working concessions at Eagles games is her full-time job, and when we spoke, she despaired that she wasn’t expecting to get back to work this year, at least for baseball season.
As I started planning this column, I was thinking I’d attack Major League Baseball and the teams for leaving these people in the lurch and rap the knuckles of the Major League Baseball Players Association (the union) for not pitching in, either. But the facts led me, alas, in the opposite direction. The teams are doing something to help the workers—not enough, but something. The union? Bupkes. The union should be ashamed of itself.
Here’s the basic state of play. There are 30 major-league baseball teams. The normal season, of course, is 162 games, meaning 81 home games per team. This year, the season is 60 games, meaning each team has 30 home games.
In a regular season, says a source familiar with these matters, covering stadium workers’ payroll runs to about $6 million a year for each team (it varies by region). That’s for 82 games. Pro-rate that down to 30 games, and it’s about $2.2 million.
I suppose that in the first instance, it would be best and simplest if the teams themselves just covered this. These are awfully rich franchises. To the New York Yankees, worth five billion dollars, $2.2 million is sofa money. Even the Miami Marlins, the least valuable franchise at a mere $980 million, pay more than that for a .227-hitting shortstop.
And beyond the teams’ current values, there’s the arguably more relevant question of their annual revenues. In 2019, according to this source, the Yankees led the way with $683 million. The Marlins, again pulling up the rear, took in $222 million. And beyond that, the television and new media deals stretching into the future are worth scarcely imaginable amounts of money. In sum, even the poor Marlins could scrape together $2.2 million.
In fairness, everyone is taking a haircut this season—the league, teams, and players. But still, they’re a long way from destitute. Indeed, the teams have already made a commitment. Earlier this year, way back in March, every MLB team pledged $1 million to help their stadium workers. I really don’t understand the difference between $1 million and $2.2 million to these franchises, whereas the difference between $30,000 and $15,000 to a concession stand worker is the difference between keeping her apartment and feeding her children versus maybe getting evicted and her kids going hungry. But at least they acknowledged the situation.
And at least four teams have gone above that. The St. Louis Cardinals pledged a second $1 million infusion to workers. The San Francisco Giants “raised” another $700,000 for their workers. The Boston Red Sox ponied up another $500,000. And the Minnesota Twins have put another $200,000 on the table.
It should be noted that the vast majority of these employees don’t work for the Cardinals, Giants, Sox, etc. They mainly work for four food-service companies: Aramark, Sodexo, Delaware North, and Levy. They, too, should obviously be pitching in here. In an interview with The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman back in April, Sean Doolittle, the Washington Nationals pitcher who is an outspoken leftie, said, “I don’t think [subcontractors] should be let off the hook here.”
I contacted all four companies Friday morning for comment. Nothing. Googling around brings no evidence that they’ve done anything for their workers.
But the real shame here, it saddens me to say, attaches to the MLBPA. The average major-league ballplayer makes $4.4 million. That “average” is distorted by the handful of super-high-end players, like the old joke about Bill Gates walking into a bar. And they’re making less this year in the shortened season. Still, most of these guys make enough that they can throw something in. To give you a sense of what piddling amounts these are for these millionaires: There are 750 active-roster players in the league at any given moment. A mere $2,000 from each would come to $1.5 million. For God’s sakes, I could afford that. Anthony Rendon wouldn’t even notice an amount 20 times that.
This week I emailed both the league office and the union for comment on this situation. A league spokesman got back to me and was helpful. From the union, after two emails, the second making clear my opinion of their seeming failure to stand with their brothers and sisters, crickets.
I should say that not all stadium staffs are unionized. Unite-Here has a presence in 21 ballparks. Still, that shouldn’t matter. It’s supposed to be a goal of the labor movement to lift non-labor wages, too.
Solidarity was once a core tenet of the labor movement. If the conductors were on strike against the railroad, the brakemen would stay out, too; or the pressmen would honor the delivery truck drivers’ picket line in a newspaper strike.
This hasn’t always been practiced, of course. As decades passed and union membership extended into certain white-collar trades and professions, some unions didn’t honor others’ picket lines. Airline pilots, to take a notable example, think of themselves as alpha dogs, masters of the universe. They didn’t usually honor flight attendants’ strikes.
That seems to be what’s going on here. What do these multimillionaire ripped uber-men feel they have in common with some poor schlub who sells hot dogs?
The answer is obviously nothing, but it’s a sad and pathetic development. Most of these men came from fairly humble circumstances. They are not so many years removed from those days and may have parents or relatives who worked these kinds of jobs. Have they really just forgotten all that? And what of the union’s leadership—what are these people thinking?
All this is happening, finally, at a most unpropitious time. “The first pitch is being thrown just as supplemental federal unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out, leaving thousands of laid off stadium workers in ever-worsening economic crisis,” says Matthew Furshong, a deputy director with the Unite-Here research department.
It’s made all the worse by the fact that while teams have helped, the players’ union is apparently singing “Solidarity Whenever.”