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The Royals chose a stadium site, but still haven't made a deal with workers or the Crossroads

A crowd of people stand on the steps of City Hall holding signs demanding union jobs and affordable housing
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
At a rally in July of 2023, the Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition fighting for a CBA accused the Royals of stalling on the agreement. Nearly a year after the group began demanding a CBA, negotiations are starting.

Labor groups have been fighting for a year for affordable housing and livable wages for stadium workers. The Crossroads, where more than a dozen businesses would get demolished, wants promises of its own. If the Royals don’t come to terms soon, labor groups and business owners won’t support the team’s sales tax.

Kaamilya Hobbs worked at Kauffman Stadium for three years, from 2015-2018. It was a family affair: Her mother, brother and cousin also worked there for a time.

Because Hobbs' current job didn’t offer paid maternity leave, she’s now facing housing insecurity after the birth of her youngest child.

She sees a new stadium as a chance to hold the team to higher standards for workers — which could include her, she said, if the conditions are right.

Hobbs is part of Stand Up KC, a low-wage worker group that fights for better pay and working conditions. For the past year, Hobbs and others like her have been fighting for the Royals to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement for the new stadium.

Stand Up KC showed up at the team’s early listening sessions, held rallies downtown and repeatedly tried to bring the team to the negotiating table for about a year. They hope that pathway is clearer now that the vote on a 3/8th-cent sales tax extension to help fund the new stadium, plus a renovation at Arrowhead Stadium, is on Jackson County’s spring ballot.

“A community benefits agreement would help open up good jobs for us,” Hobbs said. “We'll be able to get a foot in the door to help us get through a lot of the stuff that's going on for us right now.”

The Royals’ fight for the sales tax extension included promising a CBA and publicly reiterating their intent to negotiate an agreement.

In the letter of intent, the Royals suggested 33 possible CBA topics, including a minimum of 30% participation of minority or women-owned businesses, childcare and on-site healthcare for new stadium project workers, public transit improvement and investment and affordable housing initiatives.

The team was supposed to complete a draft of the CBA by Valentine’s Day — according to an unofficial schedule from the Jackson County Legislature. But a source for the Royals said that wasn’t a deadline they set for themselves and they didn’t think that allowed enough time to negotiate an agreement.

Gina Chiala, a lawyer for the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, part of the Coalition, agrees.

“We can't count anything as a win until the agreement is signed,” Chiala said. “However, if the Royals show a good faith effort and openness toward our demands and a path to negotiate a robust agreement, we will continue to engage.”

A woman in a black shirt stands outside of a brick building with an Arby's sign on the side
Aditi Ramaswami
Missouri Workers Center
Kaamilya Hobbs used to work at Kauffman Stadium. Her current job, at an Arby's in the Northland, doesn't offer paid maternity leave so Hobbs is facing housing insecurity. She says a strong agreement between her coalition and the Royals would attract her to work at the new stadium.

The Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition — made up in part of the Heartland Center and labor groups like Stand Up KC, the Missouri Workers Center and stadium workers’ union SEIU Local 1 — want the Royals to sign a CBA that includes:

  • Hiring workers from ZIP codes that have high unemployment rates
  • Allowing all current stadium workers to keep their jobs and union status
  • A fair process to unionize all unrepresented workers at the stadium and entertainment district without employer interference
  • A living wage for all stadium and entertainment district workers
  • Replacing any housing destroyed for the stadium with three times the number of units lost
  • Housing that costs no more than 30% of the area’s annual median income
  • A third-party study on what the development will displace

The Jackson County Legislature convened a small group of people, including coalition members, to begin negotiations for the initial CBA. Chiala is optimistic about current negotiations but believes the team’s unwillingness to negotiate beforehand will rush the process.
The team said it would be too early to negotiate a CBA before it finalized a location – which it did Tuesday.

“We have been unwavering in our commitment to a strong Community Benefits Agreement,” said Sam Mellinger, a spokesperson for the Royals. “We have had productive meetings and have more scheduled in the coming weeks as we work diligently and thoughtfully to finalize a deal we can all be proud of.”

Economists agree that publicly subsidized stadiums don’t benefit the communities where they’re located and generally take away money from things like schools. Chiala is hopeful that with a strong CBA in place, the new Royals stadium will benefit the community members who are partially funding it.

“It's up to whether the Royals want this stadium to be something that actually impacts and lifts up the public or not,” Chiala said. “The jury is out on that.”

A sign taped to a business door says "Save the East Crossroads. Major league baseball in an arts district. Huh?"
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Signs like this one taped to the door of Chartreuse Saloon are scattered around businesses in the Crossroads. Many business owners don't want the Royals stadium in the arts district and would face demolition if it's constructed.

What other groups want

The people with homes and businesses near the Crossroads location want promises from the team, too. David Johnson, a board member of the Crossroads Community Association, said the association has had three conversations with different Royals staff members, including Vice President Brooks Sherman.

Johnson supports the Coalition’s CBA, but said he believes the Crossroads will need its own to protect the businesses in and around the stadium.

Many business owners in the Crossroads — where the Royals will tear down the old Kansas City Star building and multiple other blocks of mostly small businesses to build the stadium — are opposed to the stadium’s location.

John Pryor owns Madison Stitch, a furniture and leather goods store in the Crossroads, and he’s adamant about maintaining the character of the arts district. He wants the Royals to sign a CBA that would contribute to the neighborhood’s proposed Community Improvement District and preserve the businesses that would be displaced.

“How is the stadium going to impact these things that make the city so unique? There's a lot of anxiety right now,” Pryor said. “The Royals have signaled that they want to act in the best interest of the community, and we’re happy to hear those assurances, but the devil is in the details.”

If the Royals don’t negotiate an agreement with Crossroads groups, Pryor doesn’t want people to support the team’s sales tax or stadium location.

The community association hasn’t taken an official stance on the Royals using the East Crossroads site, but Johnson said its main goal is to protect the small businesses that would face demolition.

“In the Crossroads in particular, we haven't had a lot of business displacement,” Johnson said. “We're very concerned about who that will affect and how the process will play out.”

The CCA meets again February 20, with plans to discuss their demands. Johnson said a Crossroads CBA should be the first priority.

“You can fix the wage issue, you can fix a union issue with subsequent agreements, although you do lose leverage," Johnson said. "But displacement and demolition are kind of forever. So we really think those should be front and center in either a CBA dialogue or the dialogue with the teams.”

Hobbs, the former stadium worker, said people need to hold the Royals accountable, including voting down the sales tax if the team doesn’t make enough progress toward a plan that works for everyone.

April 2, when Jackson County residents are set to vote on the sales tax extension, is Hobbs’ son’s birthday. She wants to vote ‘yes’ on the sales tax and celebrate the future city her son will grow up in — but only if the Royals have a binding CBA in place first.

“I'm hoping that he can have that as a good birthday present and that'll help just kick everything off the way we need to,” Hobbs said. “I'm really hoping.”

Corrected: February 19, 2024 at 1:25 PM CST
This story has been corrected to clarify Kaamilya Hobbs' work history.
When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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