On August 1, SEIU Local 1 filed amended charges in the NLRB case 14-CA-318495, concerning the Kansas City Royals. What this means for us is that we suddenly have access to a complete, detailed list of the allegations through FOIA records. The union also provided identical records upon request.
Before we get any further into this I want to make one thing clear. This is not, as you might imagine, especially given John Sherman’s reckless comments during his All-Star Break press conference, a negotiating tactic. For one thing, the negotiations are complete. SEIU Local 1 announced a contract agreement with the Royals several weeks ago that will cover the next three years. For another, the documents included indicate that lying about the allegations could lead to fines or even prison time. No one is going to take the time and risk jail time to file fake charges as a negotiating tactic. It would be colossally stupid.
The allegations against the Royals
There are seven pages of detailed accusations against the team and its management. They run the gamut from direct dealing to surveillance, deception, and intimidation. It seems kind of silly to just list them all when you can read the document as easily as I did, so I’ll highlight some of my “favorites.”
They’re allegedly messing with people’s money
The Royals stand accused of refusing to update their payroll to account for union dues as well as refusing to provide information to the union about the deductions that may or may not have already occurred. They are further accused of offering new hires more money than present employees and then blaming the union when they failed to follow through on the obligation this promise created.
This goes beyond what constitutes a livable wage and whether these employees deserve one. If the Royals can’t even be counted upon to pay their employees the wages they have promised them and try to shift blame to someone else, how can we trust anything they tell any of us?
They’re making things worse for fans, too
Among the accusations made by the union are that the Royals have unilaterally changed working conditions for employees by doing such things as installing automated ticket-taking kiosks and limiting or refusing employees the use of “clovers” at the ticket gates. If, like me, you’d never heard of a clover in this context before, I discovered through a conversation with union representatives that they are a type of credit card reader. They also said the contract only guarantees one per ticket gate while the charge document alleges that the team stopped providing them at all.
That means that, in the best-case scenario, the team is making it exceedingly difficult for people to purchase parking passes at the stadium. You either have to hope you get in the right line or they would have to somehow direct you to move to the correct line or, if possible, move the clover to where you are. The latter two options could turn out to be quite dangerous as we all know traffic conditions immediately before a game can be quite congested.
But I’m also fascinated by how much worse this makes the experience for fans even beyond safety concerns. Assuming you can do so safely, only having one clover per ticket gate means it’s even slower to get into the stadium than it has to be. The team encourages everyone to pre-purchase parking passes via the MLB app to alleviate this, but that requires you to download the app, create an account, and make a purchase through it. None of this is difficult, but it does provide personal data to the team which it can then turn around and sell. Something they are almost certainly doing, considering how much they’ve structured things to make this the most logical way to go to a game.
I’m no ghost when it comes to my personal data. I grew up at the same time as the internet, before we knew how dangerous it was to let it know anything about you. At this point, it’s probably possible for someone on the internet to do a relatively small bit of digging and know more about me than I know about myself. But for those of you who have a bit more sense than I did, it sure seems like it should be relatively simple to buy parking passes and tickets without having to fork over personal data to the team.
Bad faith bargaining
Under the header of bad faith bargaining, there are lists nested within lists detailing the accusations. The team allegedly failed to meet at reasonable times or locations and then blamed the union when they would cancel meetings. They allegedly sent people to negotiate who weren’t authorized to actually come to an agreement. They allegedly refused to bargain about things like scheduling, promotions, discipline, etc., and told the union they’d only talk about wages. They allegedly even went back on agreements after they had been made.
None of this paints a pretty picture of how the team has treated its people. The thing I have been wondering about the team since the end of last season is whether they were intentionally making terrible choices or just incompetent. These documents point toward the former, but I could see a world in which they claimed that the people allegedly doing all of these awful things simply didn’t know any better. If they make those claims, they will be betting on us believing that their total incompetence is forgivable.
But this is a team that wants taxpayer money for a new real estate venture. They’ve already been accused of incompetence and/or bad behavior in their attempts to get that project started. People have protested their purported incompetence and/or bias in the way it runs its urban youth baseball academy. Everything we can see from the outside leads us to question whether they think we’re stupid or if they’re stupid all the way down to how they’ve spent (or not spent) team salary.
At some point, it doesn’t matter if someone is incompetent or intentionally disregards the harm they cause. The damage becomes sufficient to cut them off, regardless. How many more accusations need to be leveled at John Sherman and the Royals’ leadership before we tell them that enough is enough and start demanding that he sell off the team and that the new owner performs a thorough cleaning?