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MLB stadium workers react to delayed season as player lockout drags on

Since the pandemic disrupted professional sports in 2020, the hits have kept coming, and the lockout has left stadium workers reeling.
The Boston Red Sox grounds crew
The Boston Red Sox grounds crew works on the Opening Day stencil at Fenway Park in Boston on March 30, 2021.Kathryn Riley / Getty Images file

The first two series of this year’s Major League Baseball season were canceled Tuesday after MLB and the players union failed to strike up a new labor deal to end a lockout that has stretched into its third month.

But players are not the only ones who will miss out on a paycheck — stadium workers will, too. And for some of those workers, the checks have already stopped.

“It just seems like we’re just turning back around,” said George Hancock, a lead concessions worker entering his 11th year at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. “It seems like every year for the last two years — going on three now — something’s wrong.”

In 2020, workers were largely shut out by a shortened season and empty stands. Last year, they needed to adapt to Covid safety protocols and stadium capacity restrictions.

Hancock depends solely on baseball to get by. Right now, especially amid consumer price hikes, he said, his “mind is spinning.”

“Nowadays, it’s affecting everybody. The price of everything is going up: gas, food, chicken wings. It’s the everyday needs you see it pop up: an extra 50 cents, an extra dollar, extra 75 cents,” he said.

“When you’re not working and it adds up, it’s more on your chest.”

Michael Cobb, a forklift operator who has worked at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., since it opened in 2008, said the league’s announcement Tuesday was “a setback.” Cobb, who is employed by Levy Restaurants, said he and other warehouse workers would already be working full time at this point, stocking up the stadium with food and beverages.

But because of the lockout and the latest delay, all of that remains on hold. During the waiting period, Cobb relies on working only two to three days a week at the BetMGM retail sportsbook next to the stadium and any work he can get from relatives. 

“I have to do that to help make ends meet, to tide me over till they get this done,” he said, adding that his gig at the park is his primary source of income.

Natalie Greening, an Aramark employee who sells beer part time at Fenway Park in Boston and has worked there since she was 16 years old, said she is going to miss out on being part of Red Sox’ 2022 start for various reasons. As things stand now, the Red Sox will play their first game against the New York Yankees in the Bronx on April 7, instead of at home against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 31.

“Opening Day is huge for a concessions worker, economically and socially. You haven’t seen all of your co-workers for six months. You catch up,” she said. “It’s not just a job.”

She will miss out on four games’ worth of pay because of the delayed start, which she estimated as a loss of $1,000 in shift pay and tips. Thanks to her second job as a school secretary, Greening she believes she will be all right for now — so long as MLB does not cancel games through the rest of April. 

Nevertheless, as a union worker who recently went through contract negotiations that lasted nearly three years with her own employer, Greening said she and her colleagues are “very receptive to the players’ trying to get a fair contract.”

“If they need us. We will be with them,” she said. 

UNITE HERE, the union to which all three workers belong, which represents thousands of people in 21 of the MLB’s 30 stadiums, echoed the sentiment in an emailed statement Wednesday.

“Once again—on behalf of the union that represents thousands of ballpark stadium workers across the U.S.—UNITE HERE stands in solidarity with the baseball players that are currently locked out unfairly by the team owners,” International Union President D. Taylor said in part.

Referring to the Major League Baseball Players Association, the players union, he said, “UNITE HERE looks forward to providing whatever support the MLBPA needs to advance their fight and gets them one step closer to winning.”

Major League Baseball did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred did not mention stadium workers in a letter he addressed to fans about the situation Tuesday. It is unclear whether the organization or its teams will offer financial support to stadium workers during the delay. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, each MLB team donated $1 million to ballpark employees.

Informal talks between MLB and the players association resumed Thursday in New York, ESPN reported.

For now, the players, the fans — and the park workers — will stay tuned.

“I’m hoping that they make a quick agreement of opening back up, because the city needs them, and also the workers need them. The fans enjoy it. And I enjoy it,” Hancock said. “It’s the country’s sport. We love baseball.

“We just want to get things rolling back in regular routine as quick as possible.”