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Fearing a Royals move, Kansas City-area unions demand Jackson County pursue a sales tax

People line up to enter Kauffman Stadium before a baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers Monday, July 17, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Charlie Riedel
Associated Press
Stalled negotiations are leading to rumors that the Royals and Chiefs could move to Kansas. Union leaders are urging the Jackson County Legislature to keep the stadiums — and the jobs that come with them — in Missouri.

A group of local union leaders sent a letter to the Jackson County Legislature urging them to ensure the Royals and the Chiefs stay in Missouri. Unions are worried that floundering negotiations with the team and infighting in the county will cause workers to lose out on jobs and fair wages.

The Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents nearly 20 area construction unions in the region, sent a letter Tuesday to the Jackson County legislature demanding that legislators and County Executive Frank White Jr. work together to keep the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs in Missouri.

In the letter, the unions say they “expect a full renewal” of the 3/8th cent sales tax that supports both teams — which has become controversial as talks go on. They also want Jackson County to enforce a community benefits agreement presented by Stand Up KC that would ensure the stadiums are union-built and run.

The letter comes after concerns surfaced that both the Royals and the Chiefs could move to Kansas if the sales tax isn’t put on the April 2024 ballot. First District Legislator Manny Abarca IV has publicly stated that the teams are considering such a move, although neither team has made any public remarks about relocating out of Missouri.

Ralph Oropeza, business manager of the council, says that if the teams move to Kansas, area unions would lose thousands of jobs in the construction and maintenance of the stadiums and lose prevailing wage — a minimum wage a majority of workers must be paid on public projects — since Kansas does not have prevailing wage laws.

“Any union job loss is a concern of mine, but the potential for what we have in two stadiums are thousands of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the membership of these local unions here,” Oropeza told KCUR. “So if that goes out the window then we're looking for people having to travel and go elsewhere to find those kinds of jobs.”

Oropeza said in the letter that the deteriorating state of negotiations between the county and the Royals is “threatening to dip into the livelihood of the workers we represent.”

Economists agree that subsidizing professional sports stadiums does not bring long-lasting economic benefits to cities. However, the Building and Construction Trades Council believes the boost in jobs from building and running a future stadium is good for their members and would circulate their money from that job into the local economy.

The unions in the council represent tens of thousands of workers in the area. Oropeza said that if county legislators and White do not work together to retain the teams, it will be seen as an affront to organized labor from candidates that the unions have supported — and could cost those candidates union support in the future.

“If we're working to get you elected, then we would like for you to help us to maintain a high standard of living, whether it be future projects or keeping the prevailing wage ordinances,” Oropeza said. “It’s not a secret that labor wants labor-friendly candidates so that they could help us.”

A baseball stadium is shown from the outside. A curving, concrete shape rise above metal fencing and walkways with lights on white steel beams extending above.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kauffman Stadium sits empty between games, shortly after starting the spring 2023 season.

Megan L. Marshall, 3rd district at-large legislator who serves on the Stadium Improvements committee, said the letter is a “distraction” that has the potential to hinder negotiations. Marshall was endorsed by many area unions in her 2022 election.

“I'm not interested in contributing to the volumes of empty rhetoric already provided by those not at the negotiation table,” Marshall said. “Our job as legislators is to present the best deal for the taxpayers. The Legislature is not tasked with negotiating a deal. I intend to do my job. I have no interest in being sidetracked by just another opinion from those who do not contribute directly to or control the outcome of the matter at hand.”

The stadium improvements committee is tasked with considering legislation relating to the stadiums. It is not clear who — whether it's White and his staff, the committee or both — is responsible for or involved in negotiations.

White and other county legislators did not respond to requests for comment.

In the letter, the building trades unions say they know that the Truman Sports Complex will look different moving forward, but “what cannot end is the rich tradition of jobs that come from these two teams.”

Oropeza has not received many responses on this or a previous letter supporting a community benefits agreement — and has never received a response from White. He says this is a matter of livelihood for his members and that they and Jackson County constituents deserve answers.

“This letter is just voicing a concern,” Oropeza said. “We've got till January 23rd to be able to get this on the April ballot. If this fails, then we potentially would be losing both franchises and that's not acceptable.”

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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