With their own fights with management looming, Major League Baseball Player’s Union members let an opportunity for labor solidarity bounce under their gloves Monday when the Los Angeles Dodgers crossed a picket line at a Boston hotel ahead of their World Series matchup with the Red Sox.
Thousands of housekeeping, culinary, and hospitality staff at seven Marriot-owned hotels in Boston have been on strike since the beginning of October, as part of a multi-city effort to force company negotiators to shrink the massive gulf in quality of life between their workers and their clients.
Similar strikes in Chicago have already brought a successful end to hoteliers’ nasty habit of cutting seasonally unnecessary staff off of their health insurance during the winter months when they’re surplus to service requirements. But the Boston strikes are entering a fourth week as the full pomp and circumstances of MLB’s biggest showcase arrives.
The witless move from L.A. typifies a contrast between baseball and other major professional sports in the U.S., particularly the NBA — the blackest major sports league, and the most politically outspoken — and the NFL, where players speaking out against police violence toward black and Latinx people became a cheap cudgel for bad-faith right-wingers in the sports and political media alike last year.
The Dodgers are the second group of MLB scabs to hit town this postseason. The New York Yankees also refused to stand with their struggling comrades when they came to town for the American League Division Series at the start of the month. Some Yankees defenders pleaded ignorance, noting the strike had only just begun and citing the supposed logistical complexity of changing lodgings at the last minute.
L.A.’s players and management have no such excuse. The strike has been on for weeks, the Yankees got a small but forceful burst of negative press for crossing the same picket lines just a couple weeks earlier, and the intensely image-sensitive baseball business surely knew in plenty of time to encourage the Dodgers to make different plans. The workers’ committee said it even furnished the team with a list of alternative hotels of comparable luxury where booking a stay doesn’t mean crossing workers’ picket line. Boston’s City Council even made time to show solidarity with the striking workers with a symbolic vote days before the Dodgers revealed they couldn’t be bothered to take the much more substantive move of withholding their business from Marriott over the labor unrest.
The MLB Player’s Association may soon rue this fall’s spurning of blue-collar union members. Though baseball has had labor peace for many years now, last winter’s free agency period bore telltale signs that owners were quietly colluding to drive down player pay. Whether the billionaire class that holds the purse strings actually operated such a backroom back-scratch or not, the appearance of one has elevated concerns among sportswriters that the long detente between MLBPA and the owners is coming to an end. The upcoming offeason is “the most important winter in years” for baseball’s business logistics, Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan wrote recently, “one that may determine whether peace can be salvaged or war is inevitable.”
Though the players have strong and legitimate gripes within the esoteric and specialized version of worker-boss pugilism — the game’s current structure relies on wildly underpaying the best players for their early years at the highest level, and the drying up of free agent money for players on the other side of the age distribution is a sort of quiet welching on the game’s currently-agreed financial balance — even the worst-paid pro ballplayer is firmly ensconced in the richest echelon of U.S. economic inequality. Baseball players getting well and truly screwed relative to the enormous financial value they generate for their owners might still quickly loose sympathy from the fans once the league starts hammering them as spoiled rich kids relative to the working stiffs who buy tickets. Whatever the specifics — and they’re quite specific, widely varied, and sometimes seem to require an advanced degree to understand — the mounting gripes between players and owners are always apt to be reduced to that cheap public relations sniping if labor war does indeed break out.
Players Association members scabbing out the men and women who change their sheets and ferry them room service on road trips would be a bad look at any time. In this delicate moment for the players’ union, though, marring the postseason good-will by putting thumbs in Boston hotel workers’ eyes isn’t just an error. It’s a conscious choice to play for the wrong team.