The other day, the Baltimore Orioles got lots of positive press by announcing that stadium staffers would be compensated for wages lost while a state of emergency was declared in the city. Two home games were canceled, another was played at an empty Camden Yards, and three others were moved to Tampa Bay as anger over the killing of Freddie Gray reigned.
“Due to the extraordinary circumstances that led to several canceled or rescheduled games,” read Tuesday’s memo from management, “the Orioles organization will compensate all hourly employees for hours that would have been ordinarily worked the week of April 27.”
News organizations hailed the team’s benevolence. This huzzah from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale was fairly typical:
However, the O’s graciousness doesn’t actually cover all hourly stadium workers. Not even close.
“I’m told I’m not getting anything,” says Doreen Hicks, who picks up the trash at Camden Yards at O’s games. She’s an hourly employee, as are all members of game-day cleanup crew—but the team’s edict doesn’t apply to them.
As it turns out, only stadium workers directly on the team’s payroll will get make-up money. That group includes ushers, ticket sellers, and security screeners. Orioles spokesperson Kristen Hudak declined to provide any stats related to the number of employees that fall in this category, but it’s a fraction of the labor force that was put out by the tumult that consumed Baltimore. All food, booze and merchandise vendors, for example, are technically employed by a contractor, Delaware North, and are therefore not eligible for the recompense offered by the O’s for the disappeared games.
The cleaning crew was also spared the team’s generosity. The janitorial workers are officially employed by Chimes Inc., a Baltimore-based non-profit that describes itself as a place that “provides training and employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities.” That firm has a contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns Camden Yards and leases it to Peter Angelos. Chimes spokesman Levi Rabinowitz says that his company will give nine supervisors the money they would have made for the two games that were canceled, and the one empty-stadium game, if they were played under normal circumstances.
But Hicks, and all other members of Chimes’ 185-person Camden Yards cleanup crew, are out of luck. (Or at least out of money.) Rabinowitz says they’re hired on a game-by-game, first-come, first-serve basis out of a pool of 300 workers pre-approved by Chimes. “We call it the ‘Ambition System,’” he says.
“They really don’t expect to get paid because they didn’t work,” Rabinowitz says. “It’s work for pay. They know that.”
Yet Hicks, 43, says that she did expect to get makeup pay, at least after showing up at Camden Yards for Tuesday’s O’s/Blue Jays game and being told by an usher that the team was paying his lost wages as well as those of other hourly employees. She called a superior at Chimes and got the bad news that the company wasn’t following the O’s lead.
“The usher gave me hope, and this just knocked it all out of my mind,” she says.
Some vendors are in better luck than others. Photo via Getty.
The Camden Yards cleanup crew has history of being treated like dirt by Peter Angelos.
Angelos had a sturdy pro-labor reputation when he took over as owner in 1993. He’d worked for unions for decades, and funded his purchase of the team with money won representing workers in asbestos cases against, among others, the steel barons. Angelos solidified the image by being the only owner to publicly oppose using scab players when the MLB players went on strike in 1994.
But his treatment of the stadium cleanup crews a decade ago put that image to shame. Angelos was using mostly homeless men to do the work at the time. Some were paid hourly, some were paid a flat $30 fee no matter how long the job took. All would have to show up by 9 p.m. on game nights to get the gig, but the hourly employees wouldn’t be on the clock until after the last pitch, even in cases where rain delays or extra innings kept games going past midnight, and nobody got overtime or benefits. In 2005, one of the homeless workers, James Riddick, told me supervisors routinely docked two hours pay from any hourly member of the cleanup crew caught taking a bathroom break.
A local labor organizing group, United Workers Association, took up the cause of the homeless laborers. Garnering a living wage was the top goal. They tried to get Angelos to help remove an exemption to state law that allowed the owner to pay Camden Yards workers a minimum wage that was several dollars per hour less than all other employees working on state and city contracts. UWA lawyer Peter Sabonis told me at the time that Angelos had personally agreed to make sure the workers got a living wage in exchange for a pledge not to hold demonstrations at the stadium and publicly label him anti-labor.
“We held up our end,” Sabonis said. The owner reneged.
Eventually, the UWA found success, but only by giving up trying to work with the Orioles owner. “We got a living wage for the workers, but not because of the Orioles,” recalls Todd Cherkis, a longtime UWA organizer. “We worked with the Stadium Authority, then [former Maryland governor Martin] O’Malley got on board, and now the workers get paid.”
Well, not always. Hicks says she gets “an average of six hours” of work at every Orioles home date because she has pre-game and post-game housekeeping assignments, and gets paid $13.39 an hour. That’s now the “living wage” in Baltimore, set by state law. There is the possibility of 81 days of work, plus playoffs; there is no income from this job in baseball’s offseason, which runs from October through March. Hicks said neither she nor her husband or 22-year-old daughter has health insurance. The six missed games, assuming an average workday, would mean the lost games cost her $482.04 in wages. She says she’s been told she is ineligible to file an unemployment claim to make up for the lost funds.
The Orioles’ attempt to make its own staffers whole did inspire some copycat benevolence. Delaware North spokesperson Victoria Hong says the company will give Camden Yards vendors $200 apiece to make up some of the wages lost.
But it appears that generosity won’t trickle down to those on the lowest rung of the game-day ladder. Asked if there was any chance that Chimes would follow the vending company’s lead and throw a bone to the cleanup crew, Rabinowitz quickly dismisses the thought.
“If the plant doesn’t open because of snow, workers don’t get paid, right?” says Rabinowitz. “It’s the same thing here.”
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo via Getty.