Unions Protest Possible Job Losses at Honda Center

Honda Center Petitioning (p)

An Anaheim Ducks fan (left) prepares to sign a petition demanding that Honda Center management meet with food workers about the fate of their jobs. (Photo by: Nick Gerda / Voice of OC)

Labor unions are increasing pressure on Honda Center management amid concerns that more than 400 workers who serve food and drinks at the Anaheim arena could soon lose their jobs.

Arena management will take control of food service in July, and it isn’t ruling out layoffs.

This week, workers took their concerns to the customers.

Dozens of union members — including those from Unite Here Local 11, the Orange County Employees Association, the Service Employees International Union and the Orange County Labor Federation — gathered at the arena as thousands of hockey fans streamed into Wednesday night’s match.

The protesters played drums, shouted through megaphones, passed out flyers and asked fans to sign a petition. And as the teams prepared to square off inside the arena, management and the unions had their own battle of wills just outside.

Just after arriving, labor leaders were approached by the arena’s head of security as security guards watched nearby, speaking into portable radios.

Management then wanted the labor groups to pay for the parking spots their hot dog wagon was using.

But labor stood its ground and pushed back.

“We’re not paying,” OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino defiantly told his labor colleagues, pointing out that state law grants labor unions additional access rights.

Management ultimately backed down.

Anaheim Arena Management LLC, the private company that operates the city-owned Honda Center, has yet to publicly address whether employees will keep their jobs. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Like other Honda Center workers, food stand and bar lead Monica Young is upset that management refuses to explain what will happen to her when it takes over food operations from Aramark Corporation on July 1.

“What’s so frustrating is not knowing,” said Young, who has worked at the arena since 1996 and is paid $13.69 an hour.

“They don’t say anything,” she added. “It’s ridiculous.”

Management’s secrecy has fueled speculation that employees will be out of work, replaced by workers hired at lower wages and no health benefits.

If food workers lose their jobs or benefits, their health costs will be shifted to taxpayers under the new health care law, said Unite Here spokeswoman Leigh Shelton.

“What [Anaheim Ducks Owner] Henry Samueli is doing here is pushing the cost of healthcare off of the Anaheim Ducks and onto taxpayers,” said Shelton, referring to the billionaire owner of Anaheim Arena Management.

Workers also spoke of management not being responsive to ideas they have for better cooking techniques for the food they serve.

The food workers are calling on the Anaheim City Council, which has authority over the arena’s contract, to support their jobs.

They face an uphill battle with the council majority. It was elected largely with the financial backing of Disney and hotel owners, who tend to support lower wages.

Ada Briceno of Unite Here said one member of the council majority, Jordan Brandman, hasn’t returned unions’ phone calls on the issue, an apparent shift from when Brandman publicly supported living wage requirements while campaigning for office.

The Honda Center, which opened in 1993 at a cost $123 million, can seat 17,000 people at hockey games and 19,000 at concerts.

While the city-owned arena has raked in well over $200 million in revenue since 2002, it’s unclear how much of that cash the city actually receives.

An Anaheim official recently told The Orange County Register that the city doesn’t generate any direct revenue from its contract with Anaheim Arena Management.

The venue, however, does generate sales tax. Cities typically receive 1 percent of total sales, which would come out to an average of $235,000 per year in the decade ending in mid-2012. Tax deals for venues can also be structured differently.

Union leaders say they respect the value that the arena brings to the community but will hold firm when it comes to workers’ rights.

“It’s an important venue and something that Anaheim should be proud of,” said Tefere Gebre of the Orance County Labor Federation.  “We’re not going to stop until the workers are heard.”

Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.

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