by Gerard Di Trolio
Over six hundred workers at the Air Canada Centre (ACC) went on strike at 5:00 p.m. on Friday December 13.
Workers were out in full force that evening in the freezing cold picketing the ACC before a basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76’ers.
Teamsters Local 847 members voted 82 per cent in favour a strike by rejecting what Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) called their “final offer” after six months of negotiation. Local 847 has been in a legal strike position since Nov. 24.
The dispute revolves mainly around hours and wages.
Despite a high pressure work environment, MLSE wants its staff to accept pay freezes for one year for house cleaning staff, a one per cent wage increase for kitchen staff for 2014, and front of house staff like servers and bartenders are facing a pay cut of around $2.00 per hour.
Many workers considered full-time do not get anywhere near forty hours a week. One member of the housekeeping staff said that “four days a week is considered lucky.”
Another contentious issue is allowing servers and bartenders to keep a larger share of automatic gratuities that are placed on large parties.
Solidarity on the picket line
There was no new vs. old resentment between union members. Everyone’s frustration was targeted squarely at MLSE and solidarity was evident among all employees on strike.
The only housecleaners who do get forty hours is a small group that still work at the ACC that originally came from Maple Leaf Gardens. These longtime employees were still on the picket lines and voted to strike.
A housekeeper also mentioned that MLSE was trying to stick as many of them as possible on midnight shifts with day shifts disappearing. This housekeeper also claimed that they found themselves always short staffed to do the job required of them.
Another housekeeper said how MLSE would only allow newer employees to bring one family member to the annual Christmas party. Those who had worked at the Gardens were able to bring their entire families.
A server at Real Sports Bar and Grill said that while she had voted to strike, she was really out on the picket lines in the freezing cold to support the kitchen staff who she felt was even getting a rawer deal than she was.
Kitchen staff at Real Sports often have to pump out one thousand meals in an hour when it’s busy.
MLSE has the money
Despite MLSE being majority owned by Bell and Rogers Communications which are public companies, MLSE is a private company. This means that its financial statements are not public, but estimates show they are not poor.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are estimated by Forbes to be the most valuable team in professional hockey with a value of over $1.1 billion USD. They also estimate that they are the 31st most valuable team in all of professional sports, encompassing the NFL, NBA, MLB, F1, and major European soccer leagues.
The combined assets of all of MLSE teams and venues total $2.25 billion USD as of 2011 according to Forbes.
Though MLSE’s profits are not publicly revealed, it’s estimated that they are in the range of $100 million CAD per year.
The ACC continues to operate as normal. MLSE has brought in staff from its other venues like Ricoh Coliseum and BMO Field to work at the ACC. Replacement workers have already been hired to convert the arena from basketball to hockey and vice versa.