Athletes get a lot of shine in conversations about labor in sports, but players aren’t the only workers that make the professional sports industry run. In Baltimore, workers at the Orioles team store organized with UNITE HERE for a decent contract from their subcontractor employer, Fanatics. The Real News reports from Camden Yards, where worker-organizers speak frankly about the conditions they face, and why their vision goes beyond improving their own jobs to fighting for decent work across Baltimore.

Videography: Adam Coley
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden
Audio Post-Production: David Hebden
Opening Sequence: Cameron Granadino
Music by: Eze Jackson & Carlos Guillen


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Carolyn Easley Brooks:

They say they appreciate our work, but in reality I don’t think they do, because they’re not showing us that they do. We work hard in the store to put merchandise out and to accommodate these things, so we feel like we’re not getting what’s due to us.


Dave Zirin:

Hey, this is Dave Zirin with Edge of Sports TV, here only on The Real News Network. I’m here in front of the Orioles Team Store, where workers from UNITE HERE Local 7 are going to be picketing in a moment in protest of the hardball tactics being put forward by management in their effort to secure full time work and decent health benefits.

Now as you’re looking at this you might ask yourself why aren’t the Orioles negotiating in good faith with these workers? Well, that’s where it gets a little bit complicated. The store, as of 2023, is actually owned by a group called Fanatics. The Orioles subcontracted both the Team Store as well as the food services inside. Now the food services company, which is called Levy, has organized with UNITE HERE for a decent union contract, yet Fanatics is playing hardball, and that’s what the picket here today is all about. It’s about saying don’t mess with us. We might walk out on opening day, which is happening in just a few short days, so this is all very, very tense right here at the Fanatics Team Store.

Now you might ask yourself also where is the Angelos family in all of this, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, because even though the Orioles say we’re not in charge of the retail shop, let’s be honest about this. If the Orioles, if the Angelos family, if they made a phone call the labor dispute would probably end in quick order.

Now this is also complicated, because the Angelos family just sold the team to a hedge fund of guys. A guy named David Rubenstein and the Carlyle Group, they’re going to be the new majority owners of the team, but the Angelos family has a lot of influence over this, and if you know anything about their history, they have been some of the few major league franchise owners who’ve been at different points on the side of labor.

Peter Angelos in 1994 actually sided with the players during the players’ strike, to the chagrin of his ownership brethren. Baltimore, the metro area, this is a union town, and we’re going to see that today. We’re going to see people from Baltimore picketing out here because they want to tell the Fanatics store and the Baltimore Orioles that they want decent wages and a decent healthcare contract. Let’s talk to them right now.

If you could say something directly to the Fanatics folks right now, what would it be?

Carolyn Easley Brooks:

I would say we want equal rights. We’re tired of you all keep saying no and not giving us what we need. We are sick and tired of it. You all say it’s your business model. I’m so tired of hearing that’s your business model, I really am, and so are the other associates.

We work hard in this store for you all and we deserve to get our health benefits, we deserve to get our full time hours, and we deserve our wages.

Dave Zirin:

Where are negotiations right now at this moment?

Tracy Lingo:

There’s been some meaningful movement on this hours issue, but I think the real issue is if you come in… Like Carolyn said, they like to talk about their business model being part time work and apparently lower wages, and if you come in with a bad business model and you compromise on half of it, I’m not sure that means what our members need to make up for their business model by accepting lower wages. So we’re really struck on wages right now and on not accepting less than what we get in other places in the city.

Dave Zirin:

So stuck on wages? Opening day is coming up. The baseball world, their eyes are on the Orioles right now, not just Maryland’s eyes, because the team did so well last year. Are there any thoughts about workplace action or information picket on opening day? Is that something that-

Tracy Lingo:

We haven’t decided exactly what actions we’ll take, but we’re hoping to settle this wage issue, we haven’t settled this wage issue, and, as Carolyn said, this group of workers has been incredibly strong and they’re really ready to stand up for themselves and their city, so I would expect that there will be actions on opening day.

Dave Zirin:

Amazing. Can you just explain that a little bit more, that they’re not just standing up for themselves, but standing up for the city?

Tracy Lingo:

Well, a big part of the struggle has been not just about what happens with the individual workers here, but what’s the legacy of jobs that we’re leaving. In part of the negotiations the company was asking us to sort of agree to like a concept called red circling, like certain workers who are here would get something, but newer workers would not get that.

That’s something that I think our bargaining committee feels very strongly that that’s not what our union is about. We’re about trying to raise the standard of jobs. You know, Baltimore used to be an industrial city. The city banks very hard on trying to encourage the hospitality industry, and what we say all the time is there’s no reason the hospitality jobs can’t be like the factory jobs that were here in the ’30s and the ’40s and the ’50s.

The Levys of the world, the Fanatics of the world, the Hiltons, the Hyatts, the [inaudible 00:05:41], they’re just as big, and just as powerful, and just as rich, but we’ve got to fight, just like those industrial jobs didn’t get to be good jobs just because the companies wanted to make them good jobs. They got to be good jobs because people organized and fought.

We have to organize and fight to make these jobs good jobs, and that’s not just about what the wages are, but making sure that they’re hiring from the community, making sure that they’re not attempting or making the jobs part time jobs or temporary jobs, that these are jobs that people can really count on.

Dave Zirin:

What can the City Council do to make sure that part time America doesn’t become the way that labor operates here in the city of Baltimore?

Paris Gray:

First it starts with legislation, so we have to think of legislation. We have to work with our state partners as well. We have to make sure it’s top down and that they’re not only protected statewide, but citywide as well. Then we also have to come out with this standup and show our voice, to push people this way and to push on the new ownership and leadership and whoever else that allows this to happen, to let them know, send a clear message, that this is not acceptable in Baltimore City.

Dave Zirin:

What would you say to the owners of the Orioles, because they like to say that they have nothing to do with this? But if you could say something directly to the people who own the team, what would say?

Carolyn Easley Brooks:

I would say this. This is you all’s home. This is you all’s home, and you cannot let a company come in here and take over, when they come in here and take over because you’re hurting us. They hurt you all. You all don’t want no bad publicity, so when you have a company come in here that’s not doing right by these employees that’s making you all look bad. So I say to you all get on Fanatics. Fanatics, you better listen. You better watch out.

Dave Zirin:

So that’s where we are right now. They are asking for the Angelos family to call Fanatics and tell them to get their act together and give them a decent union contract, they’re trying to raise the question of part time America and talking about why part time America simply does not work, and they’re calling for health benefits that actually allow them to live and support a family in the city of Baltimore.

Speaker 5:

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