Will the Orioles step up to the plate for its concession workers?

Major League Baseball has pledged $1 million per team for ballpark employees facing financial hardship from the delay of the baseball season because of the coronavirus, but hundreds of concession workers who serve food at Baltimore Orioles games don’t know if they will be paid.

The 700 concession workers are contractors employed by Delaware North and serve everything from beer to hotdogs and popcorn at home games in Baltimore. They are represented by Unite Here Local 7, who organized a conference call with reporters on March 26 about lost wages.

“Me and my coworkers are in desperate need of relief from the economic impacts that the quarantine has had on us,“ said Nnameke Onejeme, the chief shop steward of Local 7. “We know that Major League Baseball has made the money available, and we’re eager to use that money to care for all families during this crisis.”

Roxie Herbekian, president of Local 7, is requesting the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos pay workers for the first 40 home games, which will likely be canceled due to COVID-19: “A lot of our members live paycheck and paycheck,” she said. 

The union has circulated an online petition urging the Orioles to join teams like the National Hockey League’s Chicago Black Hawks and the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks who have committed to pay stadium workers while sporting events are shut down.

Forbes estimated the Orioles’ worth at $1.2 billion in 2019—up from the $173 million the Angelos family paid for the team in 1993. State taxpayers spent $210 million to help build Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In 2007, 11 members of the human rights group United Workers threatened a hunger strike as part of a successful campaign to gain a iiving wage for the workers that clean Camden Yards. In 2015, tweets by Orioles Executive Vice President John Angelos defending the Baltimore Uprising (sparked by the killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody) went viral after a conservative radio host criticised protestors for disrupting an Orioles game.

“There is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore … who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights,” Angelos tweeted. “This makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

“It’s been our experience over the years that the Orioles have been sensitive to the needs of our members.” Local 7 President Herbekian said, noting that lost wages from games canceled in 2015 were paid.

Local 7 Chief Steward Onejeme, a recent graduate from the University of Baltimore who makes $12.90 an hour after working at Camden Yards for nine years, says working at the stadium usually functions as his second job to pay back college loans.

“Even though my work has stopped my bills have not,” he said. ”I owe tens of thousands of dollars for education, must pay rent, insurance, I need to buy food, I need to be able to get medicine.”

Charlotte Chatel is 62 years old and has worked at Orioles games for half her life. She recently had a  kidney transplant and says she relies on her earnings to pay for medication, which costs $800 a month. 

“Unemployment is not enough, I can’t live on that,” Chatel said. 

Her husband is also out of work right now, and she helps care for her grandchildren. “We could use the help,” she said.

George Hancock, who made $12.50 an hour last year after working at Camden Yards for the past decade, said he is relying on his job to help support his mother who is close to retiring, and a nephew who has a disability.

“We’ve been committed workers, we come to work and smile, even when we don’t feel well,” Hancock said. “We just want them to do right by us.”

The Baltimore Orioles and Delaware North did not respond to requests for comment.

Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

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