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Dodger Stadium game-day workers protest, threaten to go on strike

Dodger Stadium game-day workers take part in a protest on Vin Scully Avenue outside Dodger Stadium.
Dodger Stadium game-day workers protest on Vin Scully Avenue outside Dodger Stadium before a game between the Dodgers and New York Yankees on Saturday. The union representing ushers, grounds crew, security and janitors is threatening to go on strike next month if it does not receive a new contract. (Jorge Castillo/Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of Dodger Stadium game-day workers could go on strike as early as next month if the Dodgers do not meet their contract demands by the end of June, the union representing the employees said after more than 80 people gathered to protest outside the ballpark Saturday .

The workers, according to SEIU USWW officials, are asking for a wage raise of 43% to 45% over five years and an increase in the employer’s healthcare contribution from the Dodgers. The union said it is representing approximately 500 ushers, groundskeepers, security officers, and other stadium workers in the negotiations. The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Friday.

“In my 27 years working with the SEIU, representing these workers, we have never had to go on strike,” SEIU USWW President David Huerta said. “But the circumstances we’re looking at — when you look at inflation, you look at the profitability of this organization, the cost of living — the wages that are being negotiated now, these workers understand that this is a moment for them, to be able to negotiate what they consider what they need to be able to survive in this city.

“And I think this organization that represents the Dodgers, that represents the city of Los Angeles needs to be cognizant of the fact that they’re just not a ballclub. They’re an employer that employs a lot of people and those folks have to be able to have livable wages.”

Union officials said they have been negotiating with the Dodgers since November. Their last deal, a five-year arrangement that included an 18% raise over its lifespan, expired Jan. 31. They have since been working on the expired contract.

Union spokesperson Sebastian Silva said the lowest-paid ushers and janitors earn $17.28 per hour with differentials for length of service. Part-time groundskeepers make $19.80 per hour and full-time groundskeepers receive $31.72 per hour. Silva said most union members are seasonal employees.

“We are in active negotiations with the Union and we fully expect that the parties will reach an agreement soon,” the Dodgers said in a statement.

Frank Torres, one of Dodger Stadium’s two full-time groundskeepers, began working at Dodger Stadium as a part-time security guard in 1988. He became a full-time employee in 1994 and moved to the grounds crew the following year. He said contract negotiations have never been this contentious.

“The Dodgers aren’t the Dodgers anymore,” Torres said. “This is corporate America.”

The protests on Vin Scully Avenue began at 11:30 am Saturday, several hours before the Dodgers hosted the New York Yankees for the second of the coastal powers’ three games this weekend. The protestors wore purple T-shirts and banged cowbells. They chanted in English and Spanish. Some drivers honked their horns in solidarity as they drove by.

Irene Aguilar, the chief union steward for the workers and a Dodger Stadium usher, said the union chose to protest Saturday knowing the game will be a nationally televised sellout while making sure to conclude the demonstration early enough for employees to report for work on time.

“We feel like they’re not listening to our voices,” Aguilar said. “And we just want our voices to be heard.”

Aguilar, who has worked at Dodger Stadium since 1997, said the workers are seeking wages “comparable” to what other Dodger Stadium employees have received.

In October, concession workers reached an agreement on a contract that included at least a $10 raise over two years after threatening to strike the All-Star Game three months earlier. Those workers, however, are employed by Levy Restaurants, a company based in Chicago that operates the concessions at Dodger Stadium. The 500 workers now seeking a contract, meanwhile, are direct employees of the Dodgers.

“We want the Dodgers to start treating us again like family,” Aguilar said. “Start treating us workers like family. It just seems like, you know, they’re in charge and we’re their workers.

“And before — I’ve been here long enough to know the O’Malleys — we were a family. We used to have a lot of things given to us. You know, the Dodgers in first place, they would pass out ice cream. And we no longer get that. Our front office still does, [but] we no longer get that. Little things like that make us feel like family. So since they’re not doing that anymore, well then, you know what, let’s get the wages.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.