The last three years have been good to Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, who won two World Series crowns and emerged as a contender to win another in 2013. But they haven’t been as good to the roughly 800 workers who staff AT&T; Park, the ballpark on San Francisco Bay the Giants call home.
Those workers, who staff AT&T; Park’s concession stands, restaurants, and kitchens, haven’t had a pay increase since their contract with Centerplate, the company that staffs and maintains concessions at the stadium, expired in 2009. The workers, affiliated with Unite HERE Local 2, say negotiations have stalled, leading them to authorize a strike in a vote held across the street from the stadium Saturday afternoon.
The vote won’t automatically result in a strike; rather, it gives the union the choice to begin one at a later date. Both sides are set to return to the bargaining table this week for their sixth round of negotiations — and workers will continue to fight for pay increases and against changes to their health care and pension plans, they told ThinkProgress.
“I started here in 2010, and I haven’t seen a raise since I got here,” Anthony Wendlberger, a kitchen worker at AT&T; Park said. “We’re not asking for an extravagant lifestyle. Just the basics. And a little respect.”
Negotiations center on three major issues, according to workers and union officials. Workers want pay increases they haven’t received for more than three years, and they are fighting changes to their pensions and health care coverage. They also want increased job security from the Giants in case the franchise doesn’t renew its contract with Centerplate. That would come in the form of a “successorship clause.”
The average AT&T; Park employee earns $11,000 a year, according to union officials. The jobs are seasonal, and many hold second jobs, but they receive their health care through Centerplate. Under the current plan, a worker who staffs 10 events in a month receives health care for the next month, but Centerplate wants to increase that to 12 events per month under a new contract, workers said (A Centerplate spokesperson would not confirm that detail). That would make it impossible to obtain health coverage in months like June, when the Giants have just nine home games, and making health care harder to obtain is a major sticking point for the workers.
Gina Antonini, a spokesperson for Centerplate, said the company viewed the strike vote as an “unfortunate step” in the process, adding that it remains “confident the situation can be resolved at the bargaining table.” While Antonini would not offer specific details of Centerplate’s offer, she said it would “provide a pay increase that would keep the workers among the highest paid in the industry.”
Giants’ workers start at $10.45 an hour for their first 50 games and make between $13.52 and $19.44 an hour after that, according to Unite HERE. But in a city like San Francisco, where the cost of living is among the most expensive in the nation, being among the highest paid in the industry doesn’t mean as much as it would in other cities. Wendlberger said he doesn’t make enough to live in San Francisco; instead, he lives near Sacramento, a two-hour drive without traffic. “A lot of times, I might not go home” after games, he said, even though he has a wife and two young children at home. “Gas is expensive, so I stay with my brother or my mom.”
“Some people are saying we’re being greedy,” Wendlberger said. “We’ve got members living in public housing, we’ve got people on public assistance. There’s nothing greedy about wanting a basic lifestyle.”
The ultimate fight may not be with Centerplate but with the Giants franchise, which takes 55 percent of all concession sales, according to Unite HERE. On a $10 concession sale, the Giants’ cut amounts to $5.50, while workers’ salaries and benefits and operational costs are covered by the remaining $4.50. That money “goes straight into their pockets,” Patricia Ramirez, a kitchen worker who has worked Giants games for 13 years, said.
A Unite HERE release said the Giants team value has risen by 40 percent in the last three years, and concession and ticket prices have risen during that time too. Even reducing their share of each sale by 50 cents “would be huge,” Wendlberger said.
“We feel a major part is how much the Giants are taking, and I feel like it would be different if they would just step up to the plate and do the right thing,” he said. “We work for the Giants and their fans.”
“The Giants are the ones with the deeper pockets, the ones who could help,” Ramirez said.
Ultimately, Wendlberger said, the workers are hoping to avoid a strike, a sentiment Centerplate echoed in a Friday release calling on the union to “come to the table to find a solution that is win-win for both sides.”
“None of us want to strike,” Wendlberger said. “We enjoy our jobs. We want our jobs. We just need the basics.”