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Kauffman Stadium workers file federal labor charges against the Kansas City Royals

 A woman in a purple shirt stands behind a podium with a sign that says "America needs unions." Behind her is a crowd of people wearing read shirts that say "Stand Up KC" and holding union signs
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Earlier this week, Rose Welch spoke at a rally of low-wage workers demanding the Royals sign an agreement to give workers at the new stadium living wages, a path to unionization for future workers in the entertainment district, and affordable housing. But Welch says the Royals aren't negotiating a contract for current Kauffman Stadium workers in good faith.

This is the first time that stadium workers have negotiated a contract since John Sherman bought the team in 2019. In new charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union alleges the Royals have "not bargained in good faith," and threatened and surveilled workers.

Nearly 500 union workers at Kauffman Stadium have filed charges against the Royals with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the team has refused to bargain a new contract in good faith.

The union, the Service Employees International Union Local 1, announced the charges on Friday. Representatives say that during their more than sixth-month contract negotiation process, the Royals have withheld information, surveilled, interrogated and threatened workers.

SEIU Local 1 represents ushers, toll booth attendants, ticket takers, parking lot and restroom attendants, and ticket sellers who work 81 games per year as well as special events.

Lead organizer Rose Welch said that the service workers are at the heart of every Royals game — win or lose.

"It's Local 1 members who provide that fan experience," Welch said. "They work really hard and they deserve to have their voices heard. They deserve to feel safe at work, they deserve to be respected and they deserve fair pay that reflects this."

This is the first time SEIU Local 1 has bargained a new contract since John Sherman bought the team in 2019. In the past, SEIU representatives say that contract negotiations only took a matter of days. But they say the process has been dragged out this time by the new management team.

“In previous years, we set a date and then negotiated fairly,” said one member of the bargaining committee in a statement. “This year, the Royals have dragged their feet. They have delayed meetings. They have canceled meetings. They have not bargained in good faith, as far as I'm concerned. They have not taken us seriously.”

In response, Sharita Hutton, director of communications for the Royals, said they are committed to negotiating with the union.

“It would be inappropriate to engage in a public debate with our partners at the SEIU, especially since we are currently working together to reach agreements on behalf of our events staff and grounds & tarp personnel," Hutton said. "We are also pleased to report that several months ago we reached an agreement with our ballpark services employees, and we thank SEIU leadership for working alongside us to streamline often outdated language and get this done."

Members of the Kansas City Royals' grounds crew work off the field in preparation for the 2023 baseball season Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
Charlie Riedel
Associated Press
Members of the Kansas City Royals' grounds crew work off the field in preparation for the 2023 baseball season Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

SEIU Local 1 has demanded raises for the lowest-paid workers at the stadium — such as restroom attendants and ushers who are paid less than $15 an hour. Welch says that the Royals have so far refused to offer a living wage.

“The Royals made an offer that was less than inflation — essentially a pay cut,” Welch said at a Stand Up KC rally earlier this week. “We countered with a fair wage proposal based on inflation and the Royals refused to budge by even one single penny. When we asked for fair wages for ushers, a vice president at the Kansas City Royals looked us in the face and said, ‘Ushers get paid to watch the game.’”

Among the other complaints lodged by workers include a stadium policy that prevented them from bringing their own water bottles to the stadium — which often meant that employees, especially those stationed outside, didn’t have access to adequate water during a shift.

Union representatives allege that the Royals’ bargaining committee has repeatedly walked back on tentative contract agreements, which is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. In other instances, workers allege that Royals management has threatened their jobs and screamed at them in front of fans.

In multiple instances, union representatives say supervisors gave representatives and workers differing union work group meeting times and locations.

“During one of our first bargaining sessions, a Kansas City Royals executive told me that if I didn't ‘behave myself,’ she would make sure I didn't see my season ticket holders and my fellow workers,” one union member said in the statement. “I tried to take it as a joke at the time. But with how we're treated now, it has finally hit home — it wasn't a joke.”

Talks between the union and Royals will resume next week — the final bargaining session is June 20. But in the press release, the union said they are unsure “if the Royals are up to the task of partnering with taxpayers on a new stadium if they are unwilling to fairly negotiate with their own employees.”

The Royals have been pitching a $2 billion new stadium and entertainment district, with possible locations in downtown Kansas City or North Kansas City.

Low-wage workers with The Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition — which includes SEIU Local 1, Stand Up KC, Missouri Workers Center, Missouri Jobs with Justice and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom — have been demanding the Royals sign a community benefits agreement for workers in and around the proposed new stadium.

Such a deal would include living wages, a path to unionization for future workers in the entertainment district, and affordable housing, but organizers say the Royals have been “stalling” negotiations.

"Our workers feel that the public has their right to know whether or not the people we would be partnering with are trustworthy," Welch said Friday. "If the Royals treat these workers fairly and if they stick to their agreements over the coming years, great. But if they don't, that is going to be a factor in whether or not the Kansas City community can support this new stadium project."

In response, the Royals said they are dedicated to negotiating that agreement but need to choose a location for the stadium first.

"We value and respect the role SEIU plays in representing the interests of their bargaining unit employees and look forward to working through the last few issues during our upcoming bargaining sessions," Hutton said.

Welch believes the outcome of the contract negotiations for current stadium workers will show whether or not the Royals can be trusted to give workers protections in the future.

“Over and over again, as we have engaged with the Royals on safety issues, on worker mistreatment, on fair scheduling, we have seen the Royal sit down, talk to us, come to an agreement — sometimes right down to signing on the dotted line, only to turn around the next day, the next week, the next month, and try to back right out of it,” Welch said.

Updated: June 16, 2023 at 1:53 PM CDT
This story has been updated with comment from the Kansas City Royals.
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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