Nats Park on Sept. 24, 2019
Nats Park on Sept. 24, 2019 Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Normally, during the home opener for the Nationals, Michael Cobb would be at Nationals Park by 7 a.m. He would help unload the trucks that deliver the beer, soda, and food and distribute the items all throughout the ballpark. His shift would last about eight to 10 hours.

But that wasn’t the case for Cobb yesterday on what would’ve been the home opener for the defending World Series champions.

Instead, he was on a conference call with reporters along with UNITE HERE Local 23 president Marlene Patrick-Cooper and research analyst Adam Yalowitz.

The labor union, which represents about 1,200 concession workers from Nationals Park, wants the Nationals and the Lerner family to pay the employees who are currently out of a job while the MLB season is suspended. The employees work for Levy Restaurants, the Nationals’ concessions partner. 

“We love our team, we love our city, and over the years we have put in good passionate work in the ballpark,” said Cobb, who has worked at Nationals Park since it opened in 2008. “And so all we’re looking for is a little help out of the ball team who through our help, I believe, won the championship [last] year.”

Each MLB team has pledged to give $1 million toward game-day stadium employees like ushers and ticket takers, but the concession workers, who are often employed by a contractor, are not a part of the relief unless specifically designated by the team.

The Red Sox announced last week that it would increase its payment to $1.5 million to include Aramark concessionaires. The Padres have said it would divvy out the $1 million to include their concession workers. The Nationals have not replied to a request for comment from City Paper.

“We think the Nationals should at least follow the Red Sox’s lead,” Yalowitz said. “But frankly, since we were the champions last year, we should be the leader, not following other teams in other cities.”

The MLB Players Association said in a statement that it “stands in solidarity with ALL of the employees—including UNITE HERE concession workers—whose efforts enable players to perform at ballparks across the country and who now need support during this unexpected shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Forbes, the Nationals are valued at $1.75 billion as of April 2019. The team took home $29 million in its postseason shares after winning the World Series.

Patrick-Cooper sent a letter to the Nationals ownership on March 24 imploring that the team include the concession workers in their relief money. The Nationals responded on March 30 and implied it hopes that Levy Restaurants can help out the concession workers, according to UNITE HERE.

“Their response was that they understand these are difficult times, and they hope that Levy Restaurants will do whatever it can,” Patrick-Cooper said. “And the union’s feeling is that the league made a commitment of $1 million per stadium. These workers are some of the most vulnerable to loss of income, the sudden loss of income. The teams are worth billions of dollars. And so, the Nationals need to be the one that step up to the plate and support D.C. residents who have been loyal workers and loyal fans.”

City Paper also reached out to Levy Restaurants for comment. “I’m checking in and will get back to you if there is an update,” a spokesperson wrote.

Patrick-Cooper added that the union is calling on the Nationals to commit to pay the subcontracted food service workers to be paid for the first 40 home games they’re likely to miss. So far, 6.6 million U.S. workers have filed for their first week of unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Labor. 

MLB has postponed the season until mid-May at the earliest.

“We just hate to see our members be left out of this huge crisis, which started as a healthcare crisis and now it really is a financial crisis on all levels and in all industries,” Patrick-Cooper said.