Inside Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night, the mood was as joyous as the Phillies finished off their 11-6 rout of the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Just outside the stadium, however, the anger was palpable among rallying ballpark food and beverage workers.
On Sept. 18, ballpark workers voted 515 to 275 to reject Aramark’s final contract offer. Aramark—subcontracted by the team to provide ballpark concessions—and their employees, who are represented by UNITE HERE local 274, have been engaged in a protracted dispute that has seen employees work the entire season without a contract.
This past Saturday, workers unhappy with their previous contract and with the state of negotiations gathered on the sidewalk outside of the Citizens Bank Park employee entrance to have their voices heard. Wearing union hats and T-shirts and toting union picket signs, the initially small group handed out leaflets to passers-by and marched in a circle banging on buckets and raising chants such as, “No contract, no peace.” When the game let out, the protesters’ ranks swelled to about 100.
Workers’ demands center around wages, benefits and the opportunity to work. Presently, a concession-stand worker at Citizens Bank Park earns $11/hour, according to a release from the union. They seek wage parity with Aramark workers at Boston’s Fenway Park, who make $12.32/hour along with a guaranteed annual raise of 65 cents per hour averaged over four years. Aramark has proposed just a 30 cent raise for workers at Citizens Bank Park, the union adds.
According to Briheem Douglas, who has been a concession worker at the ballpark for eight years, this is unacceptable. “This is not just a side job to me,” he says. “I use this job to support my family, my kids. We just want them to bargain in good faith.”
But turning working at Citizens Bank Park into a “side job” appears to be exactly what Aramark intends to do. “A lot of my co-workers work in all three buildings down here at the sports complex,” says Adam Franklin, a beer vendor. “They work for Aramark, they do the same job in all three buildings, same boss, same paycheck. Aramark says ‘No, that’s not one full-time job, that’s three part-time jobs.’ They do this so they can deny people benefits.” In fact, currently only 240 of the 1,500 workers at the ballpark are eligible for basic health benefits, according to the union.
Beer vendors like Franklin, who are paid only in commission and tips, complain that they have seen their paycheck shrink in recent years because of purposeful overstaffing and restrictions on the number of hours they are permitted to work. “While my pay is down about 35 percent from 2008, I have co-workers whose pay is down 60 or 65 percent,” Franklin says. “People have had to get jobs elsewhere. Aramark’s position when they made us their last, best and final offer three weeks ago, they said ‘This is our best offer and if you don’t like it you can find work elsewhere.’”
Representives for Aramark did not return repeated calls for comment.
Workers are quick to point out the apparent contradiction between the team’s recent success on the field and at the box office (they have sold out 204 consecutive regular season games) and Aramark’s treatment of its employees. “We need to win with Aramark,” Douglas says. If Aramark remains unresponsive to workers’ demands, further escalation is possible, adds Rosslyn Wuchinich, an organizer with Local 274.
Workers can take some comfort in knowing they are not alone in this fight. State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson of the 186th District was on hand to lend his support. “I’m supporting the people who make this city great ... It’s the workers who make the stadium a success, which in turn makes our city a success,” he said. In addition, Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, sent along a letter to the protestors that reads in part: “We know that you have an important role in the operation of Citizens Bank Park. Along with the players on the field, you are a big part of the ballpark experience ... I urge you to stick together in your struggle, and please know that the MLBPA and the Philadelphia Phillies players are with you in your efforts.”
As the game neared its conclusion and fans began to trickle out, a number of fans—many of them no doubt buzzed from beer they bought from Aramark vendors—gave a cheer and a thumbs up to the protesters. Franklin believes the majority of fans are behind them, “If we’re better taken care of, the fans are better taken care of. And you’re going to have a better fan experience.”