Oriole Park at Camden Yards during a July 16 game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Brandon Weigel.

On what should have been Opening Day for Major League Baseball, baseball players are all at home and fans are watching replays of their favorite team’s classic games as part of #OpeningDayAtHome.

Earlier this month, MLB suspended the start of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic, joining every major sports league in either delaying or cancelling games and tournaments.

For Orioles fans, that means the absence of a rite of spring and summer: taking in a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards or following along at home on TV or the radio. But for the workers who staff the stadium–pouring beers or selling food–the lack of baseball means a loss of critical wages.

While all of professional baseball’s 30 clubs committed $1 million to pay employees during the ongoing crisis, those funds did not go to the subcontractors who provide food, beverage and retail services.

Unite Here Local #7, a union representing 700 workers, is calling on the Orioles and the stadium’s concessionaire, Delaware North, to provide compensation for the 40 games–or half the home schedule–the food and beverage employees are likely to miss.

Delaware North, based in Buffalo, New York, yesterday furloughed two-thirds of its 3,100 full-time employees and asked the remaining staff to take pay cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a company map, Delaware North provides food and beverages at more than 200 arenas, stadiums and other hospitality venues in the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom.

Such payments would not be unprecedented. After the 2015 unrest forced one game to be played with no fans and three others to be moved from Oriole Park, the Orioles and Delaware North covered the lost wages for their respective hourly employees.

In calling for the Orioles to step up to the plate for the food and beverage staff this time around, Unite Here Local #7 is pointing the nearly $40 million of profit each team averaged in 2019 and an average valuation for each club of $1.78 billion.

The Orioles, according to figures compiled by Forbes, are valued at $1.28 billion but had an operating income (revenue minus operating expenses) of -$6.5 million last season. The revenue figures do not account for money accrued by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, of which the team owns a majority share.

The organization also noted the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks have chipped in to cover arena workers. In some cities, players have donated a portion of their salaries to help.

Roxie Herbekian, president of the local union representing the concession workers, said the club has been responsive in the past, but so far they haven’t heard from ownership or management.

“It’s our experience over the years that the Orioles have been sensitive to our members,” she said.

Unite Here launched a public petition today in support of the 700 local employees. The Orioles and Delaware North did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the effort.

Herbekian said there’s a wide range of incomes and ages among the staff at Camden Yards concession stands.

While many workers were due to make $12.90 an hour this season she said people who work at bars or food stands in the suite level can make up to $40,000 a year thanks to tips. Some employees start working at the stadium as one of their first jobs as a teenager, while others do it to supplement their Social Security.

On a conference call organized by the union, three workers said they were concerned about how they would get by during the COVID-19 pandemic without the money that comes from baseball games downtown.

Charlotte Chatel, 62, a suite attendant who has worked with the Orioles dating back to their final years at Memorial Stadium, said she recently had a kidney procedure and would not be able to afford the medicine she needs without money from her job at the stadium.

“I depend on my salary to get my medicine,” she said. “Unemployment is not enough, I can’t live on that.”

A concession stand lead, George Hancock, 34, said he needs the money to help support his family, including a nephew who has autism, as his mother approaches retirement.

“This money really lasts me throughout the year,” he said. “Not having this money right away really affects my everyday living.”

And as Hancock noted, just about every other company in food service and hospitality is being affected by the pandemic, so it’s not as if there are a lot of other places to get work.

Not all employees count on their stadium jobs as their primary source of income, but the loss of thousands will still impact everyone’s bottom line. Unemployment benefits do not make up the difference, the workers said.

Nnameke Onejeme, another stand lead, said he’s been working at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for nine years as a second job, and the extra money helped him to pay for classes at the University of Baltimore.

Without the money, he needs to figure out how to pay for rent and his student debt. Like Chatel and Hancock, he’s dipping into savings to cover everyday expenses, but that’s only sustainable for so long.

“Even though my work has stopped, my bills have not,” he said.

Avatar photo

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...