Hardball: Giants Concession Workers Fight for the Soul of San Francisco

Picture AT&T Park, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Picture about as breathtaking a baseball stadium as exists in the United States with the San Francisco Bay, otherwise known as McCovey Cove, framing the outfield like a Norman Rockwell postcard as conceived by Leroy Neiman. Picture seats packed with people clad in their iconic orange and black reveling in the once hard-luck team that now defines the city and stands atop the game. What we don’t picture when we conjure images of this or any ballpark are the people actually doing the work to keep it all running.

As idyllic as the aesthetics of the park remain, those prepping the food and cleaning the toilets make $11,000 a year in a city where, due to yet another round of tech-bubble gentrification, they cannot afford to live. Concession workers at the park earn their $11,000 in a city where a one bedroom apartment runs $3,000 a month and people are spending near that much to live in laundry rooms and unventilated basements. These same workers, who commute as much as two hours each way to get to the park, have now gone three years without a pay increase. This despite the fact that the value of the team, according to Forbes, has increased 40 percent, ticket prices have spiked and the cost of a cup of beer has climbed to $10.25. This also despite the fact that, as packed sellouts become the norm, the stress and toil of the job has never been greater. Now, the 800 concession workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 2, have voted 97 percent to strike.

Team management, which subcontracted food services to a South Carolina outfit called Centerplate, claims no responsibility for the labor troubles, even though they receive 55 percent of every dollar spent by the Giants fans. I spoke with Billie Feliciano, who has been working at the park for over three decades. She said to me, “This is the first time in thirty-five years we’ve had to go to these extremes. Centerplate says talk to the Giants. The Giants say talk to Centerplate. If we stepped back for five minutes they’d figure it out after they started to lose all that money. All we are saying is we want a fair share.”

Getting their “fair share” from Giants owner 80-year-old multibillionaire Charles Johnson will not be easy. A child of Wall Street wealth whose fortune has grown exponentially with the expansion of the financial markets, he now heads the mutual fund Franklin Templeton started by his father. As he said to The San Francisco Chronicle, quoting the company’s namesake Ben Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (It would be far more fitting if he quoted the Ben Franklin who said of money, “The more one has, the more one wants.”)

In a startling bit of symmetry, Johnson lives in the city’s Carolands Chateau, a 100 room, 65,000 square foot palace originally built a century ago for the daughter of railroad magnate George Pullman. That would be George Pullman, namesake of the bloody 1894 Pullman Railway Strike where the United States Army intervened to crush the nascent industrial workers organization known as the American Railway Union. Then, destroying the mere idea of an industrial union like the ARU was seen as a high priority. Today we are seeing service industry workers starting to organize, walk out and be heard, and a twenty-first-century Pullman is looking to halt the mere idea that the expansion of service unions will happen on his watch. This is why the struggle at AT&T Park is bigger than 800 concession workers and why everyone has a stake in offering solidarity and support. As legendary Bay Area KPFA Hardknock Radio host Davey D said, “There is a lot of talk about having a citywide fast food union in San Francisco. So if you can topple the union at AT&T Park, then you can topple that idea. And if you can topple [service] unions there, you can topple them anywhere and can stop that tide around the country.”

The workers are ready. Feliciano said to me, “We come there rain or shine. Are we striking? Not yet. But these workers are ready to strike.” The community, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the players on the Giants, from Buster Posey to Tim Lincecum to Sergio Romo, should support them as well.

As for the negotiations, they display all the arrogance of both Centerplate and Charles Johnson. During one session, while management scolded the union for thinking they were worth more than $11,000 a year, hedge fund honcho Mike Wilkins, a partner at $400 million Kingsford Capital Management, was on the field running the bases with 100 of his buddies, at a one-day rental cost of $500,000. This was described to the website Buzzfeed as an exercise in “grown up boys fantasy time.” Will San Francisco ever again be anything but a playground for the overgrown millionaire children of the tech sector? That’s the question. We’ll find out the answer in the weeks to come.

Go to thegiantzero.org for updates on the struggle

5 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Tony Bennett would support the workers--

Celebrating Tony Bennett's 85th Birthday ... and His Activism
An interview with Tony Bennett's biographer David Evanier reveals the singing star as more than just a set of pipes.

....: Tony was most influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King, the voice of conscience of his generation; by his father, John, who expressed great compassion for human suffering and spoke to Tony about his heroes; by Paul Robeson and Gandhi; by his sister, Mary Chiappa, who also was deeply committed to civil rights; and by his older mentor, Frank Sinatra, who was a civil rights advocate when Tony was a soldier. Sinatra filmed “The House I Live In” about racial equality in 1945 and was outspoken on behalf of the civil rights movement from the outset. Harry Belafonte also had a profound effect on him and called upon Tony to take part in the march from Selma to Montgomery and in other civil rights activities...

The $11K per year figure

How is that calculated? Is it $11K for the essentially 2-3 months of full-time work the employees put in during the season (81 game days, though not sure how many hours they work in a typical day)? Is it calcuated based on extrapolating what their actual pay would for a full-time 40 hour work week over the year?


Good question, gator32301. Looks to me like the figure would have to be what they are paid for their actual work time at the ballpark. Calculating it backward, if it were extrapolated as a 40 hour, 52-week, schedule, the hourly rate would come out to $5.28, which is well below current minimum wage.

Conversely, if you work it out as you suggest: given 81 games per year, plus exhibitions and postseason games, so let's call it 100 games, with up to 6 hours of work per game day, that would work out to about $18/hour. Indeed, you won't exactly get rich working at that rate, and certainlly not at 600 hours of paid work per year. But this article doesn't seem to account that the stadium employees could, and likely would, work at least one other job at some point or another. $11,000/year, out of context, doesn't sound like much, but making that much for seasonal work is not the same is making that much while working every week at the dollar store.

Capitalism and the Screwing of the Workers

No right-winger has ever seen a worker who was paid too little, nor a billionaire capitalist who was paid too much.

I'm just happy that poor Charles Johnson and his fellow Wall Street capitalists are benefiting so nicely from all of that "free market" quantitative easing that is helping to prop up real estate prices, keeping those rents sky high for workers and the profits rolling in for Franklin Real Estate Securities Fund investors. It is great how the billionaire capitalists get to screw workers at the job and then screw them again by collecting exorbitant rents from them each month. Woo hoo capitalism!


What does the baseball players union say about this? Will the players (who benefit greatly from collective bargaining) support the concession workers? Will they cross the picket line?

Or the broadcast technicians? Do they support the union actions? This needs to be a bigger story.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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