You always have to fight for what’s right. Whether it’s writers fighting for a fair contract, non-profit workers fighting for fair pay, and everything in between, people are standing up for themselves in all walks of life. With conditions getting more dire by the day, it's going to take a collective effort to get on the right track. And on a night where we saw athletes enter the workforce in the NBA Draft, some Brooklyn workers were there to stand up for what’s right.
“One job should be enough.” That was the chant and ideal that rang out last Thursday as concession workers at Barclays Center held a rally to push for better pay, better healthcare coverage, and respect from their employer, Levy. Levy and the Barclays Center have been in partnership for close to a decade and figure to continue working together for the foreseeable future.
Since last August, concession workers at Barclays Center have been working without a contract. Negotiations had been ongoing, but talks recently broke off. With that break, a lot of critical issues have yet to be resolved. Only 10% of the workforce is able to receive health coverage through their employer. Workers have to work 30 hours a week in order to qualify for the company’s insurance coverage, and the overwhelming majority don’t get enough to qualify. One worker, Irma, shared her story at the rally and said:
“It’s embarrassing to work for a company that doesn’t give health insurance to its workers and their families. When I didn’t have my medical insurance, I struggled and sacrificed a lot to take care of myself and my husband.”
Various positions don’t get paid more than $19 an hour, and in a city where funding for social services has been cut and rental prices continue to rise, it leaves Levy workers in an especially precarious position. To make ends meet, workers have taken on extra jobs just to have enough to get by. When large organizations don’t pay workers suitable wages, it puts a strain not only on the individuals and their families, but on the increasingly scarce safety net thousands of New Yorkers are relying on.
New York City Council Member, Crystal Hudson, couldn’t make it out to the really as she was at a rally for WGA writers. Via her spokesperson, Casie Addison, CM Hudson said in part:
“So I challenge Levy and the Barclays Center to think about their position, not in terms of the economic impact this will have on their wallets, which I’m certain is negligible... but to think about the position they are taking in terms of moral and macro scale considerations. The vast majority of workers represented by Unite Here 100 at Barclays are Black and Brown. They are primary wage earners for their families. They are neighbors worthy of dignity, respect, and fair wages.”
We spoke with Lashawn Saunders, a worker that’s from Brooklyn, raised in Brooklyn, and now raises her daughter in Brooklyn. She’s worked at Barclays Center since it’s opening way back in 2012. Ms. Saunders is putting her daughter through college and has to sometimes work three jobs just to keep her daughter where she’s at and to sustain a living in an increasingly expensive city.
While being at the rally and seeing the wave of players, coaches, media, etc. flow into the ‘clays, I couldn’t help but think of the dichotomy that was playing out in front of us. Work conditions have gotten even more difficult in recent years, and large corporate entities (including the folks running the platform we’re on) slash the workforce and leave their employees out in the cold. Having protections and fair conditions has become even more important, and it's something worth fighting for.
I asked Ms. Saunders the message she wanted to communicate to New York about their fight, and she connected their fight for fair wages to the young men entering the NBA workforce:
“I hope these young people that come in [to the NBA] value the people that work under them, value unions because they may be in a position like this where they need to fight for their rights and fight for their wages. They may get injured and they need to fight to be on a team and to show that they’re good. And that’s all that we’re doing. We’re valuable, we’re more than cashiers, we’re more than bussers and counters. We provide a great experience in this building. So that’s why we’re out here. We deserve affordable health insurance and we deserve better wages.”
Saunders' experience is something athletes have dealt with throughout time. Players from the ABA had to fight the NBA for years to get payments for its retired players. WNBA players had to fight the league to get maternity leave in their most recent CBA. In any environment, workers have to stay diligent and
July 17th is a day to circle on your calendars. Workers set a strike authorization vote for that day if negotiations don’t lead towards a fair contract. Dennis Diaz, Organizing Director of Unite Here 100!, spoke about how this moment coalesces into the broader fight for equity and better conditions across the United States:
"...workers are being squeezed more and more as we speak each day. And we have a slogan, "one job should be enough." In order for you to be able to spend time with your family and have a good future, these companies like Levy will have to understand they’re gonna have to pay the workers a decent wage increase, especially here in New York, with affordable health care. Workers making $16, $17, $18 [an hour]? That’s not enough. We gotta start at $20 and move forward from $20."
As someone who's been in negotiations where management told us there's nothing to be done and then had to press the issue in the public, it’s certainly understandable why workers are frustrated with Levy. You always hear from management that we can’t afford to do this, we’re cutting it real close, etc. even though they host and take part in extravagant, high profile events. That isn’t lost on Diaz, who said:
“You know, I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve yet to see an employer come into negotiation saying “Oh, we’re doing great and we’re gonna take care of the workers.” When it comes to negotiations, [they’re always saying] “We’re not making money. We’re losing money. The money’s not there.” But between us, we know the money’s there. They’re being successful. You see all the buses [of NBA draftees and other assorted people] that are coming in, and it’s Draft Night. That’s just an example. And workers in the back of the house are making less than 20 dollars an hour.”
It’s such a frustrating experience watching your needs go unaddressed.
As we draw closer to the July 17th date, everyone will be watching what goes on. Workers have fought to get what they deserve, and they’ve let the public know what’s going on in a major way. With the increased attention, we’ll see how Levy manages to address their needs and try to come to a solution and ultimately, a contract. The words of Lashawn Saunders are something to think about as we head into the stretch run:
“A lot of the business that goes on in [Barclays Center], we provide a good experience to these guests that come into this building, and we deserve a piece of the pie, too.”