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Kansas City Royals accused of ‘stalling’ deal that would secure worker benefits for new stadium

 A man in a blue suit holds a megaphone and leads a chant. Behind him is a crowd of people holding signs that advocate for union jobs. They are wearing red shirts that say Stand Up KC and are chanting.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Daniel Tucker, a leader with Stand Up KC and the Missouri Workers Center, leads chants with protestors at a rally demanding the Royals sign a community benefits agreement.

Little progress has been made on an agreement that would guarantee workers fair wages and increase affordable housing near the new stadium. At a rally at City Hall, workers and Kansas City-area demanded the Royals sign a contract to ensure those protections.

Low-wage workers are increasing pressure on the Royals to negotiate and sign an agreement that would include union jobs and livable wages for stadium workers and increase affordable housing around the prospective new stadium.

At a rally of about 100 people on the steps of City Hall, politicians, union members and workers with The Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition — which includes Stand Up KC, Missouri Workers Center, Missouri Jobs with Justice, Service Employees International Union Local 1 and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom — demanded the Royals follow through on their promises to include the community in the planning for a new stadium.

“We cannot trust the Royals to keep their promises all on their own. We must have a negotiated, signed, legally enforceable contract that guarantees the benefits that our community deserves,” said Rose Welch, a lead organizer with the SEIU Local 1, which represents Royals workers. “We've all heard the Royals say they're listening, but as far as we can tell, they aren't even listening to their own workers, much less our whole community.”

While the coalition of low-wage workers has been fighting for the agreement since last year when John Sherman announced plans to move the Royals downtown, there hasn’t been much progress.

 A young boy puckers his lips while he holds a sign that reads "Union Justice Now"
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Abel Mask attended the rally with his father, Dominic Mask. He joined chants in support of a community benefits agreement for the development of a new Royals ballpark.

The Royals have yet to announce a location for a new ballpark district but have teased multiple potential options, including moving the team to Clay County in North Kansas City. Stand Up KC workers believe the Royals are avoiding the community benefits agreement altogether while promising the public that the ownership group is listening.

“I'm feeling like the Royals organization is stalling us, to be honest,” Bill Thompson, an organizer with Stand Up KC, said. “So far we've just heard talking points. We want them to come forward with this agreement that has the workers in mind.”

A community benefits agreement is a legally enforceable contract sometimes used to guarantee public support for a major project. Stand Up KC wants a formal agreement that guarantees a living wage and a path to unionization for future stadium and entertainment district workers, allows current workers at Kauffman Stadium to keep their jobs and provides affordable housing around the stadium.

 A man stands holding a sign that reads "Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All" above his head
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
A man in a Royals jersey stands in support of an agreement to benefit low wage workers and bring union jobs and affordable housing to the new Royals stadium.

Eric Bunch, councilman for Kansas City’s fourth district, Manny Abarca, first district legislator for Jackson County, and John Carpenter, western commissioner for Clay County, all attended and spoke in support of the agreement.

Carpenter said he has as much knowledge as the public about the Royals’ location pick, but assured those at the rally that he will fight to make sure workers get the most out of the stadium if Clay County is chosen.

“If they want billions of dollars of tax revenue, then at a minimum, what they can do is pay people who work to make that possible a living wage,” Carpenter said. “They certainly pay themselves a living wage to do that work, and then some.”

According to the Royals, half of the $2 billion stadium will be paid for by the ownership group. The Royals have said they will not seek more money from Jackson County residents than the 3/8 cent sales tax they currently pay, and would seek "similar financial situations" if they move outside Jackson County. But it is not clear exactly how much the ownership group would seek from Clay County if the team moved there.

And the Royals argue that discussion of a community benefits agreement is premature. While the ownership group did not respond directly to a request for comment about the rally or progress on the agreement, Sharita Hutton, director of communications with the team, said that the Royals “are in favor of a strong CBA.”

In a letter sent last week to Stand Up KC representatives, Hutton and Adam Sachs, senior vice president of external relations for the Royals, told the coalition that the team will not move forward with negotiations until they choose a location.

“Our goal is to ensure that Kansas City benefits from all that this project can generate within our community,” they said in the letter. “The Good Jobs and Affordable Housing For All Coalition will be a part of that conversation.”

Terrence Wise, an organizer with Stand Up KC, said the Royals need to agree in writing that low-wage workers will be part of the process — even before they officially choose and announce a new location.

“Regardless of where they decide to build this new stadium, we will be impacted,” Wise said. “ We don't need a listening tour. We don't need them to say they hear us. We need to be at the table. If you're not at the table, you are on the menu. And we refuse to be on the menu.”

According to the Kansas City Star, they plan to announce a location by the end of the summer.

Updated: June 15, 2023 at 12:43 PM CDT
This story was updated to clarify how much money the Royals are planning to invest directly into a new stadium, and how much they will seek from taxpayers.
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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