NEW YORK — Last week, each MLB team pledged a combined $30 million to their ballpark employees unable to work their shifts during the coronavirus shutdown.
“I am proud that our clubs came together so quickly and uniformly to support these individuals who provide so much to the game we love,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement touting the charitable endeavor.
Two canceled games into the big league season, however, Lavoune Witherspoon is still waiting for that support. She and hundreds of other contracted food service workers at the Mets’ home ballpark haven’t received a single paycheck since the league suspended the 2020 season.
“How are people supposed to live” Witherspoon said, who is a cook for Citi Field’s Sweet Chick, a stadium outpost of the popular comfort food restaurant. “Nobody reached out to us when this happened.”
The Harlem resident is a single mother of a 19-year-old son, but both she and son have been unable to work as the coronavirus pandemic led to government-ordered shutdowns of non-essential businesses.
Along with not getting paid, she told the Daily News on Friday her colleagues weren’t even informed about their job status.
“You know who reached out to me? My chef,” Witherspoon said. “I believe that it was the owners’ place — the Mets place to reach out.”
Unite Here Local 100, the union that represents roughly 340 food workers including Witherspoon, has said they’ve yet to hear back from the Mets or Aramark, the food service client that staffs their vendors with contracted workers. The union told the Daily News that 70 of those seasonal workers have worked Mets games for at least 10 years.
Witherspoon has said the non-response is especially hurtful because they’re regularly referred to as “a family” by Aramark.
“We got a newsletter before the season started (Aramark) sent everybody saying, ‘Oh, welcome back to the stadium, family … It’s gonna be a great season. We thank you for last year, all you’ve done,’ ” Witherspoon said. “We got that paper to come back and now that we in a crisis nationwide. Nobody is taking care of us.”
Aramark, which made $14.6 billion in revenue in 2018, signs their worker paychecks, while the Mets, who were almost sold for $2.6 billion in a since-botched deal, signs Aramark’s. It is unclear, however, who feels who should pay workers during the shutdown, as neither entity has yet to provide comment clarifying if or when workers like Witherspoon would receive pay.
The Mets released this statement: “The Mets will be participating in the initiative announced by Major League Baseball by contributing $1 million to support ballpark employees affected by the delay in the start of the 2020 regular season. We are in the process of carefully considering the most appropriate way to allocate these funds.”
There is a precedent for billion-dollar organizations putting their differences aside to ensure their hourly employees can scrape by for just a fraction of their worth.
Just 12 miles southwest, at Barclays Center, food workers have been compensated during the crisis without a hiccup.
Nets owner Joe Tsai committed to paying non-salaried Barclays arena workers on March 12, one day after the NBA season was canceled.
The union praised Tsai and Levy Restaurants, the food service provider that handles Barclays and Nassau Coliseum, for informing their workers and promptly paying them even though, like Aramark’s food workers, they aren’t directly employed by the Nets.
“They’re actually running the payroll list by us,” Local 100 President Bill Granfield said. “(They’ll tell us,) ‘Here’s the Nets game that was canceled. Here’s the Islanders game that was canceled.” Granfield said that union leaders are then able to respond to make sure the projected staffing amount is correct so every worker gets paid.
Local 100 asked the Mets to fulfill the same commitment to Citi Field workers that Tsai did for Barclays.
“Though the concession workers are not employed by the Mets or Citi Field directly, they have worked hard through the years to make Mets games a success,” Granfield wrote in a letter sent to Mets president and part-owner Saul Katz on Wednesday. “We are calling on the Mets to support these workers by continuing to pay Aramark so that it can pay employees for missed games to help these workers survive in this difficult time.”
The Mets have neither responded to the letter, nor any questions regarding communication with Aramark, nor contracted stadium employees as of Friday.
Meanwhile, Witherspoon remains perplexed that workers publicly praised for their value to the experience haven’t received any correspondence about what comes next.
“You guys are supposed to take care of us. The seasonal workers: we are the Mets. We love them.”
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