On a day when they typically would have been hawking hot dogs or pouring drinks to a sold-out, Opening Day crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the food service workers who are contracted to work at the stadium instead were calling for help.
Unite Here Local 7 represents food service workers including about 700 Delaware North concessions employees who are contracted through that company for the Orioles’ home dates. The Baltimore-based union held a virtual media conference Thursday morning calling for the team to step in to ensure payment to those who Delaware North laid off when the season was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“A week and a half ago, we all heard MLB was contributing $1 million per team to be available to pay stadium workers, but that money has not been committed to our members, who are the ones who cook, who serve the beer, who help serve the customers,” Unite Here 7 president Roxie Herbekian said.
“I’m calling on the Angelos family as well as the Orioles organization and Delaware North to help compensate us the money we were counting on during this difficult time” said Nnameke Onejeme, the chief shop steward and a lead stand attendant at Oriole Park. “We know that Major League Baseball has made that money available. We’d like to use that money to care for our families during this crisis.”
The union sent a letter to managing partner Peter G. Angelos dated March 23 asking for the team to step in and join the growing list of owners who have ensured the part-time employees who staff their stadiums will still be paid.
“We ask that the Orioles make the same commitment,” the letter signed by Herbekian said. “Though the concession workers are not employed by the Orioles or Camden Yards directly, they have worked hard through the years to make Orioles’ games a success. The contracted concession workers at Camden Yards are loyal workers and loyal fans.”
The Orioles referred comment to Delaware North, whose spokeswoman sent along a Wednesday announcement that the company was laying off two-thirds of its full-time staff and no longer scheduling part-time staff.
Herbekian said that they had not received a response from either side as of Thursday morning.
That the union workers are employees of Delaware North and not the Orioles is complicated. While the Orioles haven’t announced plans to use the $1 million allocated by MLB for each team’s seasonal employees during the shutdown, that money is set aside for that purpose.
Sights and sounds from around Camden Yards on what was supposed to be Opening Day for the Orioles and a look back at last year's Opening Day.
With the Orioles offices closed through at least April 13, full-time and part-time employees of the team and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network are still being paid through that time period.
But even in the most recent example of games missed in Baltimore — the 2015 unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in police custody — there was a distinction in who paid workers. The Orioles paid their own game day employees for scheduled games that didn’t go off as planned, and Delaware North paid the concession workers.
With Delaware North’s mass layoffs, the union is turning to the Orioles for help. Herbekian said the union’s experience has typically been that Angelos and his son, executive vice president John Angelos, “have been sensitive to the needs of our members.” She cited the Freddie Gray situation as an example.
“In other instances when we’ve gone to Mr. Angelos and the team with concerns, they’ve been extremely responsive,” Herbekian said. “It’s our hope that the team will continue in that same vein and we can figure out a way that we can get resources to the men and women who work in the stadium and their families during this very difficult time.”
In the interim, Onejeme said he and many of the stadium contractors are on unemployment. Some use it to bridge the offseason gap in normal circumstances; others are part of the record waves registering for those benefits because of the coronavirus shutdown.
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He’s been working at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for 10 seasons, he said, and as a lead stand attendant who serves and does inventory on his stand each day, made $12.50 per hour last year. At stands, tips supplement that less than $100 per game, he said.
George Hancock, 34, is also a stand attendant with nine years experience and said the workers “just want them to do right by us, just the same way we come in every day and do right by them.”
“I put a lot of energy, time, my personality in this job. Everybody at the stadium, a lot of them know me,” Hancock said. “I just want them to do right by us just like we’ve been doing right by them. We’ve been committed workers, coming to work, smile. Even when we don’t feel well, we still go in and do what we need to do.”
Charlotte Chatel, 62, started at Memorial Stadium and is now a suite attendant at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. She said unemployment benefits are eaten away by medicine she needs after a kidney transplant, and she and her husband are digging into savings to cover the difference.
All three union members said the stadium work is something that can help get them through the entire year, and they’re not alone.
“People are using their emergency resources to just get basic stuff like water, food, even to go to the store and get Lysol is a big thing now,” Hancock said. “It didn’t used to be that way. We’re using our emergency funds, stuff that we’d usually pay our insurance with, extra little stuff like for some people gas and bus fare, we’re using all of our resources just to get by right now.”