Aramark unfair to Philly ballpark workers, union says

Josie Bethea, a special event banquet server with Aramark at Lincoln Financial Field, walks with large group of protesters at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday.

Everyone wore red on Thursday: the Phillies fans and the Unite Here pickets, in their union's trademark red T-shirts, who were marching by the hundreds outside Citizens Bank Park.

Just like the Phillies, defeated after the San Francisco Giants scored a tie-breaking 10th-inning run, the ballpark's African American workers are losing, as well, said the union that represents them.

That's because they tend to work disproportionately in the lowest-paying jobs, the union said.

"It's a huge racial disparity," said Dermot Delude-Dix, a researcher with Unite Here Local 274, the hospitality workers union now in contract talks with Aramark, the Philadelphia-based global catering company that employs them at the ballpark.

Not so, said Aramark, with $14.3 billion in annual sales.

"Aramark is proud of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and has long been recognized as an employer of choice by Black Enterprise, DiversityInc., Latino Magazine and the Human Rights Campaign, to name a few," spokeswoman Karen Cutler wrote in an email.

The majority of Thursday's marchers weren't Aramark's Citizens Bank Park employees. Those workers were inside serving customers.

But Unite Here bused in people from New York to Washington and from other nearby locals, drawing as well from POWER, the faith-based organization that is backing worker efforts at Philadelphia International Airport.

Passers-by in their Phillies red looked on with various degrees of interest, or disinterest, some turning away the union's fliers, others giving them a quick read.

"They have to be seen to be heard," said fan Mike Feriozzi, of Clayton, Gloucester County, who left after the seventh inning, when the score was still 2-2.

Delude-Dix said African Americans and other minorities hold 92 percent of the jobs in lower classifications, such as dishwashers earning $12.50 an hour.

Meanwhile, he said, an estimated 97 percent of suite attendants, who earn about $42.65 an hour, are white. Waiters, waitresses, and bartenders are also primarily white, he said.

Both groups, who work mainly part time as ballpark events permit, are represented by the union, which said Aramark employees earn an average of $8,400 a year for their work at Citizens Bank Park.

The union, Delude-Dix said, doesn't want the white suite attendants to lose their jobs. But, he said, workers would like to be trained and promoted into those positions as openings occur.

Right now, he said, a union analysis of Aramark's payroll data indicates that the majority of hires for the higher-paying jobs come from the outside.

Aramark's Cutler said the issue is that the suite-attendant jobs simply don't turn over. Since the ballpark opened, there have been five openings, and of those about half have been filled by African Americans.

The union's contract with Aramark expired April 1, and so far, Delude-Dix said, workers have not held a strike vote but have turned down one offer from the company that provided pay raises, but didn't address other issues.

Among those issues, he said, is a push for employees who work part time at one ballpark to be able to cobble together full-time work throughout the year by also working at Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, both catered by Aramark.

Among those marching was Josie Bethea, 55, of West Philadelphia, who works as a concession-stand manager or banquet server at Lincoln Financial Field.

"Any employee who desires to work at all three of the stadiums should be allowed to," Bethea said. "It would keep us out of poverty. If we could work at all three, then we'd have a full-time job and we could [get] benefits."

When she is a concession-stand manager, she earns $13 an hour. At her stand, a cheesesteak costs more than her hourly pay. As a banquet server, her hourly rate of $6.39 is augmented by a commission, which can boost her pay above $25 an hour.

Not marching was Diane Colbert, of South Philadelphia, who earns $14.97 as an assistant manager at a Citizens Bank Park concession and often picks up hours at the Wells Fargo arena. When she finished her job at the ballpark Thursday, she hopped on the subway to rush home to her four children.

Her annual income, she said, amounts to $13,000 to $14,000, and her most recent paycheck totaled $136.

Delude-Dix said the company treats the three stadiums as separate entities, and while some workers get hours at more than one facility, it's not automatic or predictable.

A final issue would be Aramark's willingness to contribute to a hospitality-training fund to upgrade workers' skills. So far, he said, seven union hotels have agreed to contribute to such a fund, but an eighth company is needed to trigger the establishment of a training center.

"We'd like Aramark to be the eighth entity," he said.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

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@JaneVonBergen

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