Orioles workers hold Black Friday protest at Camden Yards merch store over cut hours, health care

Dozens of Orioles merchandise employees and union allies picketed outside the Camden Yards team store on Black Friday, saying its new operator has slashed work hours and health care benefits.

Circling in front of the Orioles Team Store with signs held high over a handful of shoppers, unionized Baltimore employees who work in and around the stadium demanded the new Orioles’ merchandise company, Fanatics, restore work hours and health care deprived from a portion of their employees, many of whom are Black women.

Around 70 Orioles merchandise workers also want their pay raised to better match the average wages of retail employees at other East Coast stadiums.

“Poverty pay has got to go,” protestors shouted outside the Camden Street storefront.

Fanatics did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Unite Here Local 7, the union that represents personnel at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, scheduled the demonstration at noon so team store employees scheduled to work could join outside on their lunch breaks. From inside the Orioles Team Store, Caroline Easley Brooks, who planned to join picketers, waved and blew kisses to protestors through the glass entrance doors.

But after a security guard told The Banner reporters weren’t allowed inside the Orioles Team Store, labor organizer Tracy Lingo said employees inside were told they couldn’t go outside, nor speak to reporters, on their lunch breaks.

The team store is open year-round, and under the previous store operator, about 16 employees worked 32 hours a week. Now, Lingo said merchandise employees are scheduled to work less than 18 hours a week. Fanatics retail workers earn $15.50 hourly, which amounts to less than half the pay that Boston’s Fenway Park merchandise sellers earn, according to the union.

“These workers — mostly women who have worked in the store for years — their hours have been cut. They’ve lost health care,” Lingo said.

Union organizers say that since collective bargaining negotiations began in February, Fanatics has canceled two of their meetings. Fanatics told the union “their business model does not include full-time work,” Lingo said.

The Orioles split team merchandise workers from more than 400 other stadium employees in the Unite Here Local 7 union after entering a new contract for concessions with Levy Restaurants before the start of the 2023 season. Before that, all personnel collectively bargained with Delaware North, whose 10-year contract expired last year.

The Orioles brought on national sports merchandise company Fanatics, which has headquarters in Florida and California, to run the team store. Concessions and other seasonal stadium workers negotiated an agreement with Levy under similar terms to their previous contract.

But the same hasn’t been accomplished with Fanatics; Unite Here labor organizers say the company wouldn’t accept terms that were included in stadium employees’ former contract with Delaware North that would secure health care for many employees.

“The range of workers that work here go from college students up to seniors,” said Nnmeke Onejeme, who has bartended at Oriole Park since 2015, and now works for Levy.

Orioles Team Store employees are the face of the Orioles that team fans see year-round, unlike the stadium’s mostly seasonal staffers, said Onejeme, who’s also on Unite Here’s executive board. Under the previous contract, many merchandise workers had healthcare, family leave and vacation time.

Fanatics is “not agreeing to any of that,” he said.

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