Concessions Workers at Dodger Stadium Can Also Throw Strikes
By Christian Collins
Passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives has passed and is pending in the U.S. Senate, is essential in helping workers improve their economic security. What took place leading up to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) All-Star festivities is the latest example of why this legislation is so important. MLB All-Star weekend is one of the largest annual events in American sports, and this year’s game on July 19th included over 1,500 concessions workers at Dodger Stadium who voted in overwhelming majority to authorize a strike prior to festivities beginning. The workers are seeking to join their nearby neighbors at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in winning a union contract that would not just improve working conditions and total compensation, but also provide increased pathways to high-quality jobs for the communities most often displaced by sports stadiums.
Authorizing strikes—as the PRO Act would reinforce—is just part of how stadium workers can gain leverage in their fight to improve labor conditions at the negotiating table. The proposed strike at Dodger Stadium, which was ultimately avoided, resulted in significant progress in negotiations between workers and the stadium subcontractor. In the past year, workers at Oracle Park also authorized a strike against the San Francisco Giants’ stadium concession subcontractor, but they were also able to reach a deal before the strike took place. Even before the news of potential strike action in Los Angeles broke, professional baseball was no stranger to being the focal point of workplace struggles in advocating for improved labor conditions and benefits.
America’s Pastime Is a Showcase of Worker Power
Starting in December and going into the spring of this year, MLB team owners, including the Dodgers, took the drastic step of locking out players for 99 days in an effort to force them to accept the owners’ demands. This was the ninth work stoppage in the history of the league, with most stoppages resulting in significant wins for the players’ association. American professional athletes have long understood the benefits of organizing to improve compensation and labor conditions, with players’ associations increasingly using their collective power on behalf of players. The unions representing the four largest sports leagues in the country have also recognized the strength of the players’ collective voices in the labor movement by publicly calling for the passage of the PRO Act.
Using the example set by the Dodgers players, concessions workers are utilizing the same action of a proposed work stoppage to advocate for better compensation and work environment conditions from the stadium subcontractor. Striking is a federally protected action that employees can take in the process of collectively bargaining and has served as a tool for workers across the country to protest unsafe working conditions and dismal pay. Concessions workers are using authorized strikes to bring much-needed higher wages and improved benefits in reaction to low pay that forces them to take additional shifts at nearby venues to make ends meet. In addition, workers are fighting to protect concessions positions, as employers are increasingly implementing checkout-free stores in sports venues.
The PRO Act would update federal labor protections for workers directly taking action against their employers and for workers in related positions seeking to express solidarity. In the case of stadium concessions, the players’ association has expressed public support for Dodger Stadium workers and provided direct financial support to stadium workers across the country affected by COVID shutdowns. While these are significant actions in solidarity, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as amended by the 1947 anti-union legislation known as the Taft-Hartley Act, largely prohibits solidarity strikes by union members not directly involved in the labor dispute. Due to Taft-Hartley, baseball players can’t exercise their right to strike in support of the concession workers nor are they able to honor the concession workers’ potential picket line by refusing to participate in All-Star weekend activities. Part of the PRO Act is meant to address this prohibition, as secondary striking was legal before the passage of Taft-Hartley and is an important action used by workers to improve wages and working conditions.
Every Strike Brings Workers Closer to Their Next Home Run
The proposed strike at Dodger Stadium is a necessary continuation of the larger national trend of increased worker advocacy, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that compensation for these front-line positions doesn’t match their significant role in our society. Professional baseball’s link to the current worker justice movement is not just limited to concessions stands, as the working and living conditions of minor league players have brought increased scrutiny at both the federal and state levels. Bold public statements and actions like the proposed concessions workers’ strike are fundamental in addressing economic exploitation of vulnerable workers and populations. Their willingness to disrupt All-Star weekend should serve as an example of why these rights need protection and expansion through passing the PRO Act.