The rich L.A. Angels try to nickel-and-dime their stadium workers -- again

Squeeze play: The LA Angels are offering their stadium workers a shockingly cheap contract

Any way you cut it, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are among the richest teams in professional sports. Last year Forbes ranked them 10th in franchise value among Major League Baseball teams, at $775 million, with revenue of about $253 million.

The Angels rank seventh in the league in payroll, with an estimated $155 million going out to its on-field stars--though that may rise substantially in future years, as the six-year, $144-million contract for superstar Mike Trout kicks in. Despite those payroll expenses, the Angels have managed to keep tickets reasonably priced, or at least below the league averages

Yet it's beginning to look as though the team and its owner, Arte Moreno, are trying to hold the line by nickel-and-diming some of their most loyal and hard-working employees. For the second time in four years, the team is ruthlessly squeezing its stadium workers in contract talks.

We reported in 2011 on the last round of contract talks, when the Angels were so cheap they provoked real discontent among workers with very little leverage. The workers even voted to authorize a strike, though things never came to that pass. This time things appear to be even worse: the team is trying to strap the 550 stadium workers represented by the Service Employees International Union into a six-year contract with minimal raises. 

Workers say the team's offers on wage and working conditions reflect the poor treatment they've received in general. They link the downturn in labor relations at Angel Stadium of Anaheim to the arrival of Moreno as the team's owner in 2003. Before that, the Angels had been owned by the Walt Disney Co., which had acquired the team in 1999 from Jackie Autry, the widow of its founder Gene Autry. 

"It's like we're a number in a computer," says Char McMillan, who has been a ticket-taker at the stadium since 1986. Morale is declining and support for the union is rising, she says. "It's not a happy place to work."  Like many other stadium employees, McMillan, 70, relies on the job to supplement her Social Security, but enjoys it for the esprit de corps. The employees don't expect to be earning a middle-class family wage; a season's pay ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. Most are part-time workers who come together for the spring and summer. 

"We do it because we like it and enjoy the fans," McMillan says. But the job isn't merely a lark, as it may have been in the past. Many employees are retirees eking out a few extra dollars to make ends meet.

The fans should appreciate the effort. Speaking from my experience as an Angels fan, Angel Stadium is one of the more pleasant venues in pro sports in part because of the stadium staff--from ushers to ticket-sellers and the cleanup crew, who are universally friendly and helpful. 

Yet the Angel Stadium ticket takers, ushers and janitors earn considerably less than their colleagues at Dodger Stadium and the San Diego Padres' Petco Park, which like the Angels employees are represented by the SEIU. The SEIU says the Angels' most recent contract proposal, which was delivered to the workers on Jan. 21, was for a $1 per hour wage increase across the board--over six years. That works out to roughly 6% to 7% total over the life of the contract, depending on the starting wage.

By contrast, the Dodgers' latest contract with SEIU members covers three years, from Feb. 1 this year through Jan. 31, 2018, and gives employees a raise of roughly 3% each year. The Angels management wouldn't comment on its contract talks, saying it doesn't discuss internal personnel matters. The team's spokesman, Tim Mead, said the team "remains very hopeful of reaching an agreement." Union and management are next scheduled to meet on Feb. 18.

The SEIU hoped over time to bring Angels stadium workers to parity with their brothers and sisters at Dodger Stadium, but that dream is fading fast. An Angel Stadium usher (the lowest paid classification in the contract), earns $12.01 per hour now, or $1.50 less than his or her counterpart will be earning this season at Dodger Stadium. If the Angels proposal stands, that worker will be at $13.01 an hour in 2020, or $1.33 less than the Dodgers ushers will be getting in 2017. That's not progress.

"The Angels want to jump into the L.A. market, but they don't want to pay L.A. rates," says Jeff Froehlich, the workers' union representative.

In every job classification covered by the SEIU at Angel and Dodger stadiums, the latter are ahead of the Angels workers, sometimes by several dollars an hour, according to union contract records.

The Angels are more skimpy than other terms, too. Dodger employees are entitled to double-time pay for all home playoff games, and time-and-a-half or double-time for World Series (depending on how many games are played). At Angel Stadium, the bonus is only 10%. The Angels initially proposed raising the World Series differential to 15% in the new contract, Froehlich says, but later withdrew it.

It might seem almost reasonable for the Angels to pay less than the Dodgers, who are the second most valuable team in baseball, worth $2 billion by Forbes' reckoning. The Dodgers brought in about 15% more revenue than the Angels last year, boasting a fan base so loyal the team could afford to maintain a TV blackout affecting millions of local residents last year. (But as we've reported, that's a story of greed on a different scale.) The Dodgers had the second highest attendance in baseball last year, when the Angels ranked fifth. Both were members of the elite 3-million-attendance club.

But the Angels are also behind the pay scale of the San Diego Padres, a team that isn't nearly as valuable or rich -- ranked 17th in value by Forbes, with the eighth-lowest payroll in the league. 

That's what makes the stringency of the Angel Stadium contract so emblematic of the squeeze on America's working class. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim aren't a struggling employer or one whose workforce is invisible. The stadium staff is the team's front line in customer relations, and as far as I've seen they've never let their discontent with management affect their service to their fans. Has the team shown in its contract negotiations how much it appreciates their work or how important it is? Not by a long ball.

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