By Evan Henerson
It takes a small village to operate a stadium, as anybody who has ever attended a professional sporting event can attest. Granted, we sports fans go to the ballpark to take in the on-field action, but the overall experience would be quite a bit diminished without the hard work of the stadium employees who make it all hum.
With Union Night at Dodger Stadium coming up on Friday, August 11, Labor 411 caught up with Judy Esber, an organizer at UNITE HERE, Local 11. Esber handles organizing duties for employees at all of the major L.A.-area venues including Staples Center, the Forum, the Los Angeles Coliseum, the StubHub Center and the Microsoft Theatre. And, of course, Dodger Stadium which Esber maintains is one of the crown jewels of the 21 Major League Baseball stadiums staffed by UNITE HERE in the United States and Canada.
Labor 411: How did your interest in unions and organizing develop?
Judy Esber: I worked with unions in and out of college when I was at Azusa Pacific University. I was working at the fast food place on campus making minimum wage. I met up with some of the other kids on campus who were part of social justice stuff and they suggested I connect with Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice (CLUE). So for my sophomore year, I did an internship with them and it changed my life. I took a year off and worked for them full time. After college, I got hooked up with UNITE HERE and immediately decided I wanted to be an organizer. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Labor 411: How many UNITE HERE members work at Dodger Stadium?
JE: There are about 1,000 to 1,200 members. We represent everyone from the vendors who are selling things in the seat to the bartenders and cashiers, the people selling hot dogs, the people in the restaurants and suite attendants. We’ve got people in all areas of the stadium.
Labor 411: Generally speaking, is Dodger Stadium considered a good place work?
JE: Dodger Stadium is, I think, one of the stadiums we’re very proud of because we have a lot of really strong members there who have a history of really fighting for the things they deserve. Because of that, Dodger Stadium has one of the best standards for stadium workers across the whole country.
Labor 411: In what ways?
JE: Concession workers right now have an eight hour shift guarantee. Even if some days, they work six hours they still get paid for eight hours of work. No other stadium or ballpark across the stadium has that for stand attendants and cashiers. We’re very proud of that. We have a strong group of shop stewards and leaders so when there’s an issue that arises we can mobilize tons of workers on 24 hours notice.
Labor 411: Baseball only takes place during a portion of the year. What do your members do during the off-season or when the team is playing on the road?
JE: We try to work together to get as much year-round work as we can. The employer who does the food service also does food service at Staples Center, the Forum, Stubhub, the Convention Center and the Microsoft Theatre, so we have language about work being able to transfer. Some of the workers who are at Dodger Stadium will go over to Staples in the winter and then transfer back to the Dodgers. There are others who have full time jobs or people who are teachers. One of our shop stewards just retired from working at the Department of Water and Power. We have a lot of older workers at Dodger Stadium because obviously it’s a union and it comes with job security. Some of our top shop stewards have been there something like 35 years. Some of the older workers are retired now [from their non stadium jobs], so this is something they still enjoy doing and can do for a long time. It’s nice to have something you can do even when you’re retired.
Labor 411: Still, it can’t be easy trying to make ends meet.
JE: What’s difficult is the part-time seasonal work. Most jobs, you’re working 40 hours a week or something more regular. Here, you could be working 10 days straight, and it’s long hours and it’s very physical, but then you’re off for two weeks. I think the people who work there do it because they really love it. A lot of people are huge sports fans and they love being at Dodger Stadium. There are also a lot of families who work there, people who are getting their kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews jobs. So there are multiple generations of families working in the stadium.
Labor 411: Can you earn a decent living working at Dodger Stadium?
JE: Yes and no because it’s seasonal and that’s difficult. But because our standards are so high, our members there make on average about $16 an hour. We have really good language that isn’t in other contracts. I spent seven years working at the Philadelphia Phillies’ stadium and the shift guarantee there is only four hours. When the [workers at that stadium] work during the playoffs, they get their regular rate and they don’t get any extra.
Here, if [our employees] work during the playoffs, they get time and a half and I think there might even be games where they get double time. So that really makes it a decent job for a part-time job. It’s pretty awesome that you get all this time and half and double time. Sometimes it’s exhausting because you’re working for eight or more hours, but then sometimes you only work six hours but get paid for eight. That’s actually part of why people stay there so long, too. Most food services jobs, you get minimum wage and that’s it. I also think it’s great that there are jobs that don’t require a college degree that actually pay decent wages. We need more of that in society.