While the rock band Green Day was blasting out their hit “American Idiot” at the San Francisco Giants ballpark on Friday, August 27 to a huge crowd, UNITE HERE Local 2 workers and staff inside and outside the park were handing out “Don’t be a Giant Idiot!” flyers. Local 2 represents hundreds of food service workers at the ballpark.
Thousands of Green Day fans—some masked, many not—were gathered for the concert, in the midst of the surging COVID pandemic propelled by the Delta mutation. The Giants were doing little, if anything, to protect workers in the park from the ravages of the coronavirus. That is the way it is at the ballpark these days. The Giants website boasts that there are “NO COVID-19 ENTRY REQUIREMENTS,” but warning fans that they can’t bring backpacks or alcohol into the park. A little COVID, however, well, apparently that is okay.
According to the Local 2 leaflet “Over 20 occurrences of COVID have been reported since the start of the baseball season among Ballpark Food Service staff.”
Linger, for a few moments, over that word “reported.” There is a state law, AB685, that requires employers to provide “written notice” to workers of any “potential exposure to COVID-19… within one business day.” Yet, it was not until August 11 that food service workers were given any kind of written notice about COVID in the ballpark—for a season that began in April – and that notice reported only one potential exposure.
A few days later food service workers got a written confession that there had been many more “positive tests”—one in April, 11 in July, and seven in August (through August 12).
Of course, much of this was really not news to ballpark workers, who have been hearing about infections and workers getting sick since the beginning of the season. Reportedly there were workers in the warehouse who have been infected, and warehouse workers travel all over the ballpark delivering supplies. There is also a story about an area supervisor getting infected. Supervisors also are in and out of many concession stands during their work day.
Yeah, “over 20 occurrences of COVID have been reported…” Sure, boss.
I emailed the Giants on Saturday, August 28, and asked if they could provide me, a journalist writing about COVID at the ballpark, with a full list of COVID incidents in which workers at the ballpark have tested positive or have been diagnosed with COVID during the current baseball season, and what they have done about it. I haven’t heard a thing.
I made a public records request to the authorities in San Francisco last April, asking for written documents between the city and the Giants regarding COVID safety protocols at the ballpark. I haven’t gotten a single document yet, over four months later. Apparently the city’s safety protocols at the ballpark are a state secret.
Meanwhile food service workers are now attending to thousands of fans every game, basically playing a game of Russian roulette with our lives, the lives of our families, and the lives of our communities.
Back in April, some readers may recall, the Giants food service subcontractor, Bon Appetit, demanded that workers sign a release of liability for COVID infection at the ballpark. Fortunately, Local 2 officials put a stop to that. But the fact that such a release was even created speaks volumes about the contempt with which the Giants treat ballpark workers.
Not that the Giants are unique employers. For example, hotel workers in San Francisco, and indeed around the country and the world, are facing severe cutbacks that threaten our safety and our livelihood. The same with other hospitality workers in restaurants, airline caterers, clubs and other sports stadiums—both union and non-union. Bosses rarely miss a trick to jack up the bottom line, even if it means taking advantage of a worldwide crisis.
According to Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta, “The work we’re doing right now in every one of our brands is about making them higher margin businesses and creating more labor efficiencies, particularly in the areas of housekeeping, food and beverage and other areas.” Kick those workers while their down, Mr. Nassetta?
“Don’t wanna be an American Idiot,” sings Green Day. Workers everywhere are facing a health crisis which seems to have no end in sight, not even that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The number of US workers who have died from COVID is fast approaching the number of those who died in the Civil War—655,000—and looks to blow right past that number and keep going.
This is a country that doesn’t know how to get people vaccinated. A country that can’t do serious mass testing, contact tracing and isolation. More than 1,200 people are dying every day in the US from COVID. More than 100 are dying every day in California. There are more than a thousand people with COVID in Bay Area hospitals, besting the numbers at the height of every previous surge, excepting only last winter’s mega-surge.
Nor can the American idiots running our country deal in any real way with the economic devastation that the pandemic and our greedy corporate masters have wreaked on us poor working-class folks.
The Local 2 “Don’t be a GIANT IDIOT” flyer noted that the last wage increase food service workers got was in “April… of 2018.” The Giants never lifted a finger to help provide health care to laid-off ballpark food service workers during 2020, although the pandemic was raging. The Union has demanded a $3 per hour retroactive hazard-type pay increase, and even that demand is incredibly modest compared to what we have suffered. Especially considering that the fortune of Charles Johnson, the controversial chief owner of the Giants, increased by $815 million from March 2020 to January 2021, commanding a fortune of something north of $5 billion.
While I was passing out the Local 2 flyer at the Green Day concert, I was approached by a security guard who told me that I was on Giants property and had to move. I was actually at the Lefty O’Doul Gate on the walkway behind the stadium next to McCovey Cove. Hundreds of people were streaming past me going into the concert or strolling along the cove, but somehow I was picked out as an intruder.
When I told the security guard that the law permitted me to do exactly what I was doing, he went off in a huff. I was soon confronted with one of San Francisco’s finest, who informed me that the Giants had called and complained about me. I must have been doing something right, I guess. I effected a tactical retreat, moved back a few feet, and passed out flyers for another couple of hours.
Anand Singh, the President of Local 2, told me he sums up this situation at the ballpark this way:
“Although Bon Appetit/Compass [the Giants food service subcontractor] have taken some steps to address our members’ health and safety concerns, the overall approach adopted by the Giants to keep both workers and fans safe during this latest surge is completely inadequate, and dangerously irresponsible. Our members have carried on through this pandemic without fair compensation and security in our health insurance, while the powers that be have continued to reap profits. We are ready to fight for our health, our safety, and for justice at the ballpark.”
Marc Norton is a Local 2 Giants food service worker.
Marc’s website is at https://MarcNortonOnline.wordpress.com.
Marc’s earlier writings are posted at http://www.MarcNorton.us.