Why Concession Workers in San Francisco Are Threatening to Strike
Food service employees would like better pay, more stable health insurance, and better safety measures in the pandemic
When LeBron James hit a long, go-ahead three pointer with a minute left in a play-in game versus the Warriors last May, dozens of concession workers at the Chase Center in San Francisco lost their health care for a month. That’s because, according to the union chief who represents them, concession workers at the Chase Center only receive health care through their jobs if they work ten games a month.
The Warriors played six scheduled regular season home games in May plus a home play-in game versus the Grizzlies to bring the total to seven. Had the Warriors beaten the Lakers they would have been guaranteed at least three more home playoff games in May.
“LeBron hitting a three shouldn’t cost people their health coverage,” said Anand Singh, president of UNITE HERE local 2, the union that represents 930 concession workers at Chase Center and Oracle Park, where the Giants play. “It’s absolutely ridiculous to take away workers’ health care in a pandemic over something that’s no fault of their own. That’s one of the reasons we have chosen to fight.”
Like most professional sports teams in the United States, both the Warriors and the Giants use a subcontractor to handle food preparation and sales at their home games. In this case, concession workers at Warriors and Giants games work for a company called Bon Appetite.
Last Saturday, 96.7% of concession workers at Oracle Park voted to strike for a number of reasons. Workers I spoke to cited the fact that they’re scared of losing health care over scheduling issues, frustrated they haven’t been given hazard pay during the Covid-19 pandemic, and upset that the Giants are allowing fans to order food from them without wearing masks. “There is signage up but there is no enforcement,” Singh said. (I attended last Saturday and Sunday’s games and found this to be accurate).
In a statement to The Long Game, a team official said, “The Giants make the health and safety of everyone working and visiting Oracle Park a top priority. We operate our venue in compliance with local and state health requirements.” (The Warriors had not yet returned a request for comment at press time).
While they continue to work during a pandemic, concession workers are asking for an additional three dollars an hour in hazard pay. They haven’t yet gone on strike, but on Friday the union announced it would begin holding sign-ups for picketing outside Oracle Park.
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Julie Nordman has been working concessions at Giants games for thirty years and voted to strike. She told me that the 2020 season without fans was a nightmare, during which she had no income and no medical insurance. “I got Covid and spent three and a half weeks in bed,” said Nordman. “My husband and I were sick on our 36th wedding anniversary.”
Nordman manages thirteen employees at the Doggie Diner hot dog stand behind home plate and says she loves working Giants games. “I raised all three of my daughters on baseball,” said Nordman. “The atmosphere with all our co-workers and season tickets holders is like a family. I just love it.” Nordman said a season ticket holder in her section, a teacher, heard about their vote to strike and wanted to write a check to cover the additional three dollars an hour for every employee working that night. “These are the kind of people we serve every day.” said Nordman. “This is why so many of us stay in these jobs for thirty, forty years.”
But May was also a bad month for Giants concession workers. The team only had nine home games on their schedule, so all the concession workers lost health care for the month of July. “Usually they’ll come up with another event like a graduation or a high school game to get us to ten so we can keep our coverage,” said Nordman. “But because of Covid that didn’t happen. So we had a lot of people who couldn’t afford their medications in July so they just went without. It’s really tough.”
The day the Giants schedule comes out is also a scary day for Rhonda Mitchell, who has been working concessions at Giants games for twenty-one years. (She currently manages the McGraw Derby Grille on the top deck.) Mitchell, a native San Franciscan, says she’s been a Giants fan since she was six years old. She remembers watching her all-time favorite Willie Mays make spectacular catches at Candlestick Park like it was yesterday. With no games last season to work, Mitchell was forced to rely on unemployment and savings to scrape by and pay her monthly bills.
I visited Mitchell’s stand and, because of the chicken fingers and garlic fries, it was one of the busier areas in the park. In the fifth inning of Sunday’s game the line stretched for 30 minutes. “I love the fans but they should know how hard we work,” said Mitchell. “It may seem easy to get all that food to hundreds of people but it’s not.” Concession workers arrive four hours before first pitch and stay until about an hour after last pitch.
Singh says the union has been negotiating for several months on a new contract that includes the pay raise and new health and safety protocols. “These people live on a razor’s edge,” said Singh. “They can’t afford to catch Covid and get sick and lose their health care.” Singh says 20 workers tested positive for the virus since the stadium re-opened to fans. “Most of these workers have been with the Giants for decades and go back to the Candlestick days,” said Singh. “They love the Giants and want the team to succeed. There’s a lot of pride.”
In a statement to The Long Game, a Giants team official said, “Bon Appétit Management Company and Local 2 are currently engaged in collective bargaining negotiations. We encourage both sides to work productively to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”