As dejected fans file out of RFK Stadium following another loss, the work of cleaning up their mess begins. “Pickers” walk through the seats, grabbing the larger trash so that the “blowers” can blast the peanut shells, candy wrappers, and whatever else the pickers missed down to the lower level. After the pickers comb that level, the shells and other debris will be swept up, bagged, and carried out.
“That’s the hardest part of the job, the peanut shells,” says Michael Kinard, 48.
In three investigative reports over five months in 2005, the Washington City Paper exposed numerous contractors paying illegally low wages to RFK workers. The 1965 federal Service Contract Act (SCA) mandates that employers with public contracts pay certain workers prevailing wages, which in the stadium’s case fall between $11 and $13 an hour, plus paid vacation and sick leave. After some foot-dragging and attempts at legal challenges, the contractors upped their wages to the legal level and are in the process of cutting workers checks for back pay.
The employees will have to stretch that back pay, however. In the Nationals’ second season, many workers’ wages are back to the previously illegal levels. But those low wages are now perfectly legit.
Designmark Services and Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC), two District contractors who were underpaying workers last year, are once again paying around $8 to $8.50 an hour, according to pay stubs and interviews with employees at a recent game. But this season, the contracts are paid through the Nationals instead of through the city. The Nats are required to pay only the city’s minimum wage—$7 an hour—not the livable prevailing wage the SCA requires.
Designmark and the Nationals did not return repeated calls. A CSC manager who refuses to speak on the record confirms that his company no longer has a contract with the city and that its wages are in the $8 range. He says that CSC is paying arrears to its workers, mainly ushers and support staff, for last year’s underpayment.
Claude Bailey, general counsel for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, says the contract rejiggering was not intended to dodge the federal wage law. “It was just a decision that had been made previously. We want to transition to the Nationals running stadium operations,” he says.
Impark, which handles parking at the stadium, and duraTurf Service Corp., which converts the field from baseball to soccer and back, are still paid by the city, which puts their wages under the purview of the federal statute. Bailey says both companies are in compliance with the law and that Impark will soon be cutting checks for last season’s back wages. Melissa Reynolds, a duraTurf project manager, says that her employees make between $14.52 and $16.47 an hour.
“We meet the guidelines of the SCA,” she says.
Nigel Gragg, president of Park USA, which is partnered with Impark, says his company sent checks for back pay for all of 2005 on April 19 or 20. “That doesn’t help the people that needed the money last year, so I apologize for that,” he says. His workers now make a minimum of $11.49, says Gragg. An employee confirmed the wage on April 24.
Gragg says that he’s not sure if future contracts will come through the city or the Nationals.
For Designmark employees, the night shift is scheduled to report two-and-a-half hours after a game’s start time, but Kinard and two other workers say that supervisors demand they be there for an hour before that, during which they sit around unpaid. On a typical night, the shift ends at around 5 or 6 in the morning. If a day-game follows, workers are back at 3:30 in the afternoon—or 2:30, if they follow the supervisors’ purported orders. There is no meal break.
“You can’t find a supervisor to ask to go to the bathroom, because they’re all hiding, trying to catch us not working,” says Theresa Kinard, 51, Michael’s wife. “If we’re caught sitting down, you’re fired on the spot.” She recounts one of her duties: standing on a wobbly chair in the VIP rooms and dusting the TVs—while hovering above a ledge that drops off to the level below. “That’s hard work,” she says.
And with the rate back down to $8 an hour, it seems many have decided it’s just not worth it. So far this season, several workers say, Designmark has had difficulty retaining employees. Because of the low pay, most of the staffers from last year have left, as have many of the new ones. One current employee says that only about 20 workers showed up to clean the stadium after the Reds game on April 24, down from more than 45 at the start of the season.
The Kinards were not among that handful. April 22’s Braves game was their last day working for Designmark. Says Michael: “My body couldn’t take it anymore. I’m getting a little age on me.”CP