Twenty-One Union Organizers Kicked Out of Nationals Park Over Labor Day Weekend

Mike Elk

Nationals Park: A pleasant place to watch a game, but painful to attempt to unionize.

WASH­ING­TON, DC – The base­ball sta­di­um for the Wash­ing­ton Nation­als may have received $693 mil­lion in pub­lic financ­ing for its con­struc­tion, but union orga­niz­ers learned this past Labor Day week­end that doesn’t mean its pub­lic prop­er­ty. On Sat­ur­day, 17 union orga­niz­ers with IAM Dis­trict 4 attend­ed the game, wear­ing t‑shirts that encour­aged Nation­als Park’s 341 guest ser­vice work­ers to vote Yes” in an upcom­ing union elec­tion. They claim secu­ri­ty kicked them out for wear­ing the shirts. Two days lat­er on Labor Day itself, anoth­er 4 union orga­niz­ers wear­ing sim­i­lar t‑shirts were also kicked out.

We were told that our shirts were offen­sive and escort­ed out of the ball­park,” says IAM Dis­trict 4 union orga­niz­er Joe Flan­ders. We weren’t even talk­ing to any­one, we were just wear­ing our shirts so that work­ers knew they had support.”

The Wash­ing­ton Nation­als dis­pute Flan­ders’ ver­sion of events.

A few indi­vid­u­als who iden­ti­fied them­selves as being with an orga­nized group called IAM were asked to leave Nation­als Park for vio­lat­ing mul­ti­ple guest con­duct poli­cies, includ­ing solic­it­ing per­sons inside the ball­park, tak­ing unau­tho­rized sur­veys inside the ball­park, engag­ing in unau­tho­rized com­mer­cial activ­i­ties inside the ball­park, dis­rup­tive behav­ior, [and] non-com­pli­ance with requests from autho­rized ball­park staff, secu­ri­ty, and on-site police,” says Wash­ing­ton Nation­als spokes­woman Lara Pot­ter. Such activ­i­ties are pro­hib­it­ed with­in the ball­park, con­sis­tent with poli­cies estab­lished by most pro­fes­sion­al sports facil­i­ties. Cit­i­zens wish­ing to engage in expres­sive con­duct and/​or unau­tho­rized com­mer­cial activ­i­ties may do so only out­side of Nation­als Park tick­et­ed areas.”

IAM is cur­rent­ly attempt­ing to orga­nize the guest ser­vice work­ers. The union claims the work­ers are upset about mak­ing only $11 an hour with no ben­e­fits, as well as unhap­py that work­ers who speak up to man­age­ment are denied work assign­ments. Those work­ers approached IAM, and an elec­tion to decide whether to join the union is sched­uled for Sep­tem­ber 6 and 7.

Sport­ing the best record in base­ball, the Wash­ing­ton Nation­als have seen record atten­dance and rev­enue this sea­son, but that has­n’t stopped the team’s man­age­ment from mov­ing quick­ly to sup­press the union dri­ve. They have hired the law firm of Hogan Lovells to com­bat the dri­ve, and have made ball­park work­ers attend cap­tive anti-union meet­ings. Man­age­ment has also for­bid work­ers from talk­ing to fans about the orga­niz­ing dri­ve at the ballpark.

On Tues­day night, I asked one work­er about the upcom­ing elec­tion and he quick­ly threw up his hands and backed away from me dra­mat­i­cal­ly, say­ing he wasn’t allowed to talk about it at the ball­park. Anoth­er work­er at the ball­park told me,“I can’t dis­cuss this, but I like work­ing here tremen­dous­ly.” IAM’s Flan­ders says he’s had sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences when try­ing to orga­nize work­ers at the ballpark.

They don’t want to talk inside of the shop because they are being watched. There are cam­eras at the ball­park on you for every­thing you do,” says Flan­ders. You can’t make a move on there with­out being on video.”

Beyond management’s inter­fer­ence, the union has an uphill bat­tle in win­ning the elec­tion. Many of the guest ser­vice work­ers who col­lect tick­ets and ush­er peo­ple to their seats are retirees on pen­sions or Social Secu­ri­ty. It is mere­ly a part-time job for them, and they enjoy com­ing to the ball­park to watch some of the games; the $11 an hour is sim­ply icing on the cake.

Lat­er on Tues­day evening, I approached a work­er and start­ed dis­cussing the union dri­ve. After I told him that I was a mem­ber of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers of Amer­i­ca’s News­pa­per Guild affil­i­ate, he men­tioned he was a CWA mem­ber in Vir­ginia. Now retired, he had pre­vi­ous­ly worked at Lucent and said that, despite his retire­ment, he still main­tained his CWA membership.

We got things good,” said the work­er. We were strik­ing every three years, it seemed like. Man, we had some real power”.

When I asked him about the upcom­ing elec­tion at the ball­park, he told me he was plan­ning to vote against the union.

It’s a part-time job. I just come here to the ball­park to watch the game and harass the fans,” said the work­er laugh­ing. I don’t want to pay union dues. Most of the peo­ple here are retired.”

With the Wash­ing­ton Nation­als’ union-bust­ing and the lack of desire among part-time employ­ees to union­ize, it appears as if IAM is already down 0 – 2 in the count. They’ll find out Fri­day whether it’s strike three.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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