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The Royals step on yet another rake with latest press release

This is a billion-dollar franchise. How does this keep happening?

Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman is seen on Opening Day prior to a game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on March 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman is seen on Opening Day prior to a game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on March 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In tennis, there is a pair of related statistics known as “Forced Errors” and “Unforced Errors.” They’re exactly what they sound like, too. A forced error is a mistake a player makes after a particularly good shot by their opponent. An unforced error is when a player makes a mistake on a play that probably should have been pretty routine. Forced errors are going to happen to any tennis player, but you really wanted to avoid unforced errors.

If the Royals franchise was a tennis player, it would not be very good.

Before Thursday’s game, the team made a press release about their recent agreement with the SEIU Local 1 to ensure event services, ballpark services, and grounds & tarp units can work through 2025 uninterrupted. Had they left it at the first two paragraphs, it would have been pretty innocuous as far as these things go, they could have taken their win, and we could have all moved on. Unfortunately, they decided it was necessary to take shots at the union in the second half of the release. One of which included the assertion that coming to an agreement proves their good intentions toward their employees; something that absolutely does not follow.

The Royals came to an agreement with the labor union because it was necessary to do so in order to keep running their business. Maybe the team values their work and maybe they don’t, but coming to that agreement proves neither thing. I get that it’s pretty standard PR-speak and doesn’t mean much, but it irritated me so I decided to start digging.

The team made a series of interesting assertions in the release. Obviously, my coverage on this topic has been pretty pro-union to this point. It seemed only reasonable to give the Royals a chance to expand on their statement, this time, since I’d given Local SEIU 1 their opportunity last time.

What are substantial wage increases?

Per the press release,

The Kansas City Royals are proud to share that we have [...] lock[ed] in substantial wage increases for our events, ballpark services, and grounds & tarp employees.

I was curious what the team’s definition of “substantial” is. Unfortunately, the team spokesperson’s response on this topic was:

We’ll let the statement stand on this. Everyone is getting raises.

Not particularly enlightening, right? So I was forced to go back to the union and asked them if they could shed any light. In response, they provided me with not only the three new contracts but the expired contracts for all three teams as well. After doing some serious math, I discovered that it was true! The Royals are giving what appear to be substantial increases to some of their employees!

One positive I was glad to note was the re-classification of seniority ranks for both the ballpark services team and grounds & tarp crews which meant that employees were guaranteed greater minimums much sooner in their careers. Unfortunately, I am unable to tell you how many people are getting raises because of that. I’m also not able to tell you how many people got more traditional raises. For example, the grounds crew members with 20 years or more of service got a pretty hefty raise. But how many grounds crew members have been with the team that long?

The release indicates a new pay range from $16 per hour all the way to $31 per hour, however, in a response statement sent out Friday evening, SEIU Local 1 notes that only one employee currently qualifies for that $31 per hour pay rate. Per the contract, one must be on the grounds crew, have a chemical handling certification, and have been working for the Royals for at least seven years in order to be guaranteed that salary. The union also noted that the wage rate is limited to no more than two employees at a time. According to the contracts I was provided, the next highest salary is $29 per hour, paid to those grounds crew members with at least 17 years of service for the team. If you aren’t on the grounds crew, the highest minimum hourly rate you can hope for is $24.80, paid to ticket sellers. That doesn’t sound bad at all, but it’s not $31.

Unfortunately, not everyone is doing so well under the new deal. Of the 19 different classifications in the three different teams, fully eight of them will only be guaranteed $17.50 or less in 2023. Remembering that at least one of those classifications has only a single employee out of the nearly 500 has that $31 rate, it seems likely that the vast majority of the employers are much closer to the bottom of that range. Even $16 is a lot more than you can find from a lot of employers, sure, but if you walked into a job interview hearing that the range went up to $31 you’d probably be pretty disappointed by that number. You might even feel a bit deceived.

By my math, the event services team almost universally received raises of less than 6% from last year to this year. A 6% raise might sound nice to many of us, but accounting for how bad inflation has been lately, that money isn’t worth what it used to be. I plugged some of the salaries into the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator and came to the conclusion that these “substantial raises” being touted by the Royals end up merely keeping up with inflation - or not even that - in multiple cases, which is similar to what the union had to say on the matter.

The contract allows the Royals to pay more than the listed amounts, and maybe they will. But it seems to me that if they wanted to make a real habit of doing so, they would have gone ahead and locked in higher minimums than the ones that ended up in the contract.

Basic math goes awry

While I had the numbers, I decided to go ahead and check the math on a claim that closes out the second paragraph:

The Royals have agreed to pay increases of 20 percent or more for our ushers and bathroom attendants over the course of our new 3-year contract with the Union.

It turns out that the bathroom attendants will, in fact, receive a pay increase amounting to 20.69% by 2025 over their 2022 salaries. They’re getting a 10.34% increase immediately, which I’m sure they’ll appreciate. However, the ushers will only be receiving, by my math, an 18.64% pay increase by 2025. Again, many of us might celebrate such guaranteed raises, but why on earth did the team say it was “20 percent or more” when it was, in fact, neither of those things? This is what I mean by an unforced error. It casts a pall of doubt over everything else they say when they could have just as easily said 18 percent or more and looked almost as exactly as impressive!

A generous interpretation would be that whoever drafted the statement failed to realize that the ushers made a minimum of 25 cents more at the end of the previous contract than bathroom attendants. This means that, despite reaching the same new minimum in 2025, their percentage increase is not as great. However, that sort of lack of attention to detail is still problematic in itself. As I wrote last week, there comes a point when incompetence is just as problematic as intentional wrongdoing.

The water situation was a real problem

A lot of people baselessly assumed that the team employees were flat-out lying about the water safety issues at Kauffman Stadium. If you recall from my initial reporting on this topic, SEIU Local 1 indicated that an agreement had been reached, but that the team was not allowing the employees to actually follow the new plan, at that time:

SEIU Local 1 members did win a new agreement on worker health and safety which would fully resolve the long-standing water concerns, but that agreement will not take effect until after the contract has been finalized. While it is common for employers to agree to make safety changes immediately, the Kansas City Royals have not agreed to preemptively begin any of those agreed changes.

I asked the Royals spokesperson about the discrepancy between what the union said and what was stated in this press release. I received this response:

What you’re describing is very typical of any labor negotiation where sides agree to issues along the way, and then those agreements are finalized at the end. We would add, however, that in this case we made immediate changes to address the complaints. Those immediate changes included a new drinking water quality hose and daily washing of the jugs. We also now allow metal cups.

For their part, the union again addressed the situation in their own statement:

SEIU Local 1 cannot confirm the claim by the Kansas City Royals that health and safety issues were “resolved” in April 2023. Instead, in April 2023, following a press release regarding safety concerns around clean water, SEIU Local 1 members did win a new agreement on worker health and safety which would fully resolve those long-standing water concerns. However, while it is common for employers to agree to immediately implement agreements on health and safety, the Kansas City Royals did not agree to preemptively begin any of those agreed safety changes. In July 2023, after the new contract was fully executed, the Kansas City Royals did begin to implement those negotiated health and safety rules.

So, I suppose, absent any further evidence, this particular aspect of this issue has devolved into a “he said, she said” argument. Still, a couple of things stand out to me. First, the water issue was very real; the Royals have confirmed it themselves, so there’s no denying it anymore. Second, it was just as bad as advertised.

The list of improvements offered by that Royals spokesperson tells us what they weren’t doing prior to changing the policies. The team was not using a drinking water quality hose and they didn’t wash the jugs daily. It’s hard to imagine how a billion-dollar corporation could offer water of such poor quality to their employees. Regardless of when the change was made, it is absolutely disgraceful that the situation was that bad in the first place.

John Sherman is still talking about the stadium

A picture of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride with text overlay that reads, “Partnership. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“Partnership” has become one of team owner John Sherman’s favorite words as he continues to talk about the real estate development project he wants to fund with taxpayer money. Of course, he only uses the term when attempting to describe why unaffiliated citizens should help him pay for it. This completely disregards the reality that real partners don’t just fund such projects, they also profit from them. Does John Sherman intend to offer an equal share of his project’s earnings with the tax-paying public? I doubt it very seriously.

Honestly, y’all? I’m exhausted. I wanted to write today about why it absolutely makes sense to trade Brady Singer this off-season and why the Royals should absolutely not trade Bobby Witt Jr. Instead, I’m still writing about how the Royals can’t stop getting in their own way.

I’d love nothing more than to spend more time waxing eloquent about how improved Michael Massey and MJ Melendez have been since the All-Star Break. Or to scream from the rooftops that Witt is making his star turn and we need to enjoy it as much as humanly possible because it’s rare to be on the ground floor of these things.

I’d love nothing more than to stick to sports.

But, before I can do that, the Royals need to start acting like good partners and do better.