Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ESPN chooses peak season to close, leaving workers shut out by United Workers

posted by NYFJ member Onleilove Alston

Workers at ESPN Zone were shocked to find out through the local news last Tuesday that within a week they would be out of a job. One loyal bartender of five-years found out through Facebook. Three undercover Baltimore City Policemen have been monitoring ESPN Zone’s Inner Harbor Location since the news leak. “They think we are going to steal their TVs,” said one worker. Employees learned they would be advised of possible severance packages Wednesday, a day after closure. After informing employees in Chicago and Washington that those locations would be closing the night of closure, the news leak gave Baltimore employees a week’s heads up. The silence was a slap in the face to employees, some of whom had worked for the company since it opened at the Inner Harbor in 1998.

The June closure is also a financial blow for Baltimore workers, who depend on summer tourist business to offset the slower seasons and compete for jobs at the Inner Harbor in the spring.

According to CNN Money, Disney, the entertainment empire that owns ESPN Zone, came in 57th on the Fortune 500 list and in 2009 made $3 billion in profits, gave no explanation for shutting down their restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Washington, Chicago and Baltimore. One cook said upon leaving work Saturday night, “Business has been better than ever. They could have at least waited until September when the tourist season is over.” She asked that her name not be used because ESPN Zone has issued a gag order, warning employees that if they speak to the media, they will lose their severance pay. ESPN Zone management has scheduled a meeting with workers for Wednesday, June 16th, to discuss a possible severance package, but some recent hires fear they may not qualify for those benefits and that finding a comparable job will be difficult now that tourist season is already in full swing.

Closing without advanced notice is yet another example of the poverty zone development that Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has come to exemplify, where developers Cordish and GGP who control the Inner Harbor continue to allow rampant human rights violations to take place at their properties. National chains and Corporate executives in Los Angeles are allowed to make life-altering decisions for employees making little over minimum wage who are left to figure out how they are going to pay next month’s rent in these hard economic times. One busser stated “We are used to getting paid daily [through tips]. I have a car-payment due tomorrow. If I can’t cash a severance check on Wednesday, I’m not going to be able to eat this month.”
Abuses such as these clearly indicate the need for GGP and Cordish to enter into a legally binding agreement to ensure basic human rights standards at the harbor, as a first step towards Fair Development. Zed Smith, Vice President of the Cordish Company told the Baltimore Sun June 9th that Cordish was confident it could quickly “replace the ESPN Zone with an equally spectacular venue.” But without any developer mandated human rights standards, what is to stop the next vendor from being “equally” abusive.

Fair Development respects human rights, maximizes public benefits, and is sustainable. As the heart of Baltimore, the Inner Harbor should reflect Fair Development standards and benefit the community as a whole, not merely the developers, who value private gain over public benefits.

As people of faith let us remember the importance of worker justice because Deuteronomy 24:14-15 admonishes us to “not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt.”

United Workers is seeking support from the faith community. For information about how individuals and congregations can get involved contact: info@unitedworkers.org.

The United Workers is a human rights organization led by low-wage workers. We are leading the fight for fair development, which respects human rights, maximizes public benefits and is sustainable.

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