For those keeping score:
And now...the Blue Collar Edition - Issues with Levy Restaurants at Dodger Stadium
UNITE HERE Local 11 authorizes a strike prior to the 2022 All-Star Game
There were developments afoot at Dodger Stadium on the eve of the All-Star Game. On July 11, the UNITE HERE Local 11th, 99% of the workers voted to authorize a strike against their Chicago-based employer, Levy Restaurants, which could occur at any time. The union stated that it represents approximately 1,500 food servers, bartenders, suite attendants, cooks, and dishwashers who work at Dodger Stadium. The talks were continuing to avert a strike of the All-Star Game, the All-Star Game strike was averted on July 15. As of now, the MLBPA has publicly stated its support of UNITE HERE Local 11:
Needless to say, for any regular readers of TrueBlueLA, I have thoughts on the matter. I have a measure of sympathy and compassion for those that had to work retail or in a public setting during an ongoing respiratory pandemic. And it is not a political statement to state and want these folks to work in comfort, safety, and dignity, regardless if I am interacting with them or not. And if those workers happen to service events that you or I happen to attend, such as games at Dodger Stadium, this statement and desire should apply to them as well. Let us once again return to the inestimable Brennan Lee Mulligan making this same point, but for those who work in coffee shops, which is parallel to what we are talking about:
Folks talk about the labor shortage in this country and whine that folks do not want to work anymore. Never mind that this ongoing pandemic has killed in excess of a million people as of this essay and still actively killing and hospitalizing people. Never mind that the Baby Boomers are finally exiting the workforce due to age and/or death. Never mind that some workers are finally in a position to exercise just a little bit of leverage to get better working conditions or go back to school. The main point is that there is more than one reason behind a massive macro trend. Even with all that said, you might have opinions regarding the food vendors, et al. trying to get a better deal at this particular moment. Fair enough.
We can all agree that having food served to us (that we pay for) at the ballpark is a good thing. And no one would argue that food vendors at ballparks should not exist. Therefore, if you want food vendors at ballparks to exist, then I argue that is a bad thing to then say that food vendors at the ballpark should not have a living wage, or basic benefits to allow them to work in comfort, safety, and dignity while they serve you, me and others at the ballpark. To say otherwise is to effectively say: “yes, what they do is good, but it should be bad to work there,” which is mean, unfair, and ultimately does not make logical sense.
As demonstrated by the other essays in this series, I am proudly pro-worker. I make no secret about that. And before anyone argues that we are talking about a “mom and pop” being held hostage by organized labor (we’re not), we are talking about workers demanding better wages and working conditions from a company valued at $1.5 billion, with 50,000 employees, serving over 200 different venues, including over 25% of the ballparks in the Major Leagues (Chase Field, Dodger Stadium, Guaranteed Rate Field, loanDepot Park, Nationals Park, Oracle Park* (at last check, Bon Apetit, served Oracle Park, especially because the same union, in this case, threatened a strike and got increased pay for workers in 2021), Tropicana Field, and Wrigley Field. If the members of UNITE HERE Local 11 take this moment to make their lives a little easier doing something that we can all agree is good, more power to them.
In an update shortly before publication, Local 11 announced on Twitter that they would continue to bargain with management but not strike during the upcoming All-Star Game:
Update on Compass/Levy Labor Dispute at Dodger Stadium pic.twitter.com/tCOOly9Y0X— UNITE HERE Local 11 (@UNITEHERE11) July 15, 2022
If anything dramatically changes later on, an update will be provided.
Benching the Peanut Man, Roger Owens
Admittedly, the name Roger Owens, world-famous peanut vendor at Dodger Stadium, was not instantly known to me, when his name popped up on my radar at the beginning of July 2022. To be fair, I was someone who did not actively go to Dodger Stadium from 1988 to 2001 because I was a child who lived away from Los Angeles in a family that did not enjoy traveling. But to those lucky enough to frequently visit Our Blue Heaven, you likely saw Mr. Owens tossing bags of peanuts, maybe by tossing them behind his back or between his legs.
In 1976, future Hall of Famer Don Sutton, who was a guest at Owens’ wedding, stated to the LA Times that he would have trouble hitting a wall 15 feet away if he tried to throw a bag of peanuts behind his back. Owens has been flinging peanuts at Dodger Stadium for almost 65 years. In 2009, the LA Times reported that Owens was famous for his behind-the-back throw for which he only missed two throws all year. With all of that history, including visiting Tokyo, appearing on television and in movies (as a peanut vendor), and one presidential inauguration (Carter, for obvious reasons), Owens’ act has been sent to the showers.
Per the LA Times, back in early July 2022, Dodger fans reached out to the paper to state that Levy Restaurants had ordered Owens to stop (literally) slinging peanuts. Owens stated that Levy representatives told him that the decision was made for “fan safety.” Owens has shown more grace than most would in that situation, accepting the decision while stating that he does not want to pick a fight with Levy Restaurants.
Owens said: “They have time to see it coming,” Owens said. “It’s not some bullet that goes straight through. I’m always wanting to make sure that whoever I am throwing to will catch the bag of peanuts. I want them to catch it, because they feel a sense of accomplishment.” I respect Mr. Owens’ decision, but, in my view, Levy Restaurant’s decision is answering a question that no one asked. And frankly, rabblerousing against a faceless, heartless corporation doing the absolute wrong thing? That’s literally what I do as based on the entire It’s not my Money(ball) series.
Prior to the current gig, I did personal injury law for over two years, and I can say as a Dodger fan (and as a lawyer), Levy Restaurant’s position is, in a word, nonsense. But to get into why behind this assertion, I have the opportunity to set the record straight on probably the most famous case of the most “frivolous” personal-injury case of all time: the McDonald’s hot coffee case. (Spoiler alert: literally everything you think you know about this case is wrong.)
I will summarize why Ms. Stella Lebeck was the unfortunate victim of both McDonald's and the media at large. While sitting in a parked car, Ms. Lebeck spilled coffee on herself. She admitted that she was at fault for the spill. As a direct result of the spill, Ms. Lebeck ended up with third-degree burns on her legs and groin (yes, while fully clothed). She went into shock and nearly died.
At the time of Ms. Lebeck’s injury, McDonald's had been customarily been serving customers coffee at temperatures approaching 190 degrees F / 88 degrees C. This setup caused approximately 700 hundred people to be severely burned by McDonald’s coffee in the year of Ms. Lebeck’s injury. McDonald’s refused to pay for Ms. Lebeck’s medical bills and offered a settlement of less than $1000. At trial, the jury was so incensed about McDonald’s behavior, that they awarded damages equaling the cost of two days of national coffee sales (about 2.7 million USD at the time). The ultimate award was reduced to about $600,000. Ms. Lebeck signed an NDA and was forced to keep silent until her death over the character assassination campaign that followed (as evidenced by being the punchline of late-night comics and false belief that bogus lawsuits were on the march).
This case started the wholly incorrect view that frivolous lawsuits were clogging the court system, which persists to this day. This case actually showed the opposite and demonstrated that the system works in a corporation that was held to account not by the government, but by a civil suit of a private citizen. Frivolous lawsuits are filed, but for the most part, they are dealt with quickly and efficiently by lawyers who clear the legal detritus from the court dockets, often resulting in financial penalties for those who would clog the court’s dockets.
What does Ms. Lebeck have to do with Roger Owens? Simple - the legal fear of potential litigation caused by a potential injury that Levy Restaurants allegedly has is not supported by the facts. Moreover, there is a legal doctrine that likely protects the Dodgers and Levy Restaurants from any injury, however minute or remote, that could possibly be caused by the extremely unlikely event of an injury occurring caused by an extremely unlikely errant throw from Mr. Owens: Assumption of the Risk (AOR).
AOR is a concept that gives legal protection for certain activities where all risks cannot be removed from an activity. Think skydiving or other extreme sports - the operator can’t be negligent (i.e have equipment not work), but if you get injured doing one of these activities, you cannot successfully sue to recoup damages. Another activity that would qualify: going to a Dodger (or any Major League) game. Per the LA Times, a fan sued for injuries from hot coffee spilling on him at a concession stand at Dodger Stadium last year. The Dodgers and Levy Restaurants argued that AOR applied, citing the language that appears on every single ticket sold. This legal doctrine is the same reason you cannot sue the Dodgers (or any other baseball team) if you get injured if you get by a ball or tossed bat, but you can sue if the players enter the stands and they hurt you as that act exceeds the scope of the legal protection. Keep this thought in mind for a future essay as we will come back to this point.
Therefore, as Levy Restaurants seems to be channeling their inner McCourt (as I cannot think of a more family-friendly, Dodger-specific insult), it is up to us to right this injustice, because Mr. Owens is not one to make trouble. In this instance, it is up to the rest of us, especially those of us who have been entertained by Mr. Owens to make some good trouble. If you are fine with the Levy Restaurant's decision to stop Mr. Owens from literally throwing peanuts, you do not have to do anything.
However, if you disagree with Levy Restaurant’s decision to effectively bench Mr. Owens, there is a way to make your voice heard. Thanks to publically available information, you can contact Levy Restaurants at Dodger Stadium by calling 323.224.1553, or send a fax to 323.224.1543 (assuming you have a time machine), or email firstname.lastname@example.org (add “Attention: Owens Peanut Decision” to the subject line). Please be polite, please be respectful, but please make your voices heard if you want to try and reverse Levy Restaurant’s decision as to Roger Owens.