‘Everything went to hell’: stadium workers on the US sports shutdown | Sport

Tell us about your job…

Mike Dougherty (St Paul, Minnesota): “I have been a food and beverage vendor since 1989 when I started at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Coincidentally the first day I vended was the same day as my first day of classes at law school. What started out as a job to do as a fun distraction, and a little extra money, from the rigors of law school ended up being a lifelong career in and of itself.”

Randi Trent (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): “I’m a server at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers. I’ve worked at the stadium for the past 19 years. I love my job. I feed the press box, the cameramen, and work the VIP lounge.”

Duane Thwaites (Miami, Florida): “I’m a father of four. Three boys, one girl. My girl is 11 soon to be 12. My youngest son is 19, he’s away in college. My other children are older and they living in Atlanta. I am … I guess the reality is I am homeless. I sleep on the floor in a warehouse, downtown Miami, in the Little Haiti area. I’ve worked at Marlins Park at a concession stand for eight years, this will be the beginning of the ninth season.”

How much of your livelihood depends on this job?

Mike Dougherty: “There have been years where vending has earned me more than lawyering. Now about a third of my annual income is from vending. Vending has its up and down years depending on attendance and fan enthusiasm for the teams. This year, we were especially looking forward to the baseball season as the Minnesota Twins won their division last year and prospects were high for another good year. From what I have heard through the grapevine, advanced ticket sales are way up.”

Randi Trent: “I work year-round at all three Philadelphia sports stadiums. When the basketball season ends, I start working at the Phillies Stadium, after that, it’s football. My whole income revolves around Philadelphia sports. When a team goes to the playoffs, I make more money. Now that the NBA shut down, my income has dropped to zero.”

Duane Thwaites: “I usually work during the home games. I would do 10 hours a day, easily. It’s usually between 10-12 hours a day. Some weeks I don’t work at all, and then there’s some weeks where I do three to four games a week and I do 30-something to 48 hours. The [Miami Open tennis] was a good entry into the season. It usually lasted two weeks, I’ve been doing it since it was at the Hard Rock Stadium, and after it got cancelled this year, everything pretty much went to hell.”

What is your day-to-day life like now?

Mike Dougherty: “Quiet. We are on semi self-quarantine. We leave the house to run essential errands and walk the dog. With all entertainment venues closed it’s about all we can do. We can’t visit my mother at her assisted living facility, nor do we feel we can even visit friends and other family. We are getting a few chores and projects done around the house. My wife is a night nurse so she does go to work at night as we hope enough precautions are being taken at her hospital to mitigate the risk there.”

Randi Trent: “Since getting laid off, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with my coworkers helping them file for unemployment. I’m trying not to stress – the utility companies are being lenient for now, but I know my bills are going to start piling up. I just came back from a medical leave so I don’t have any more savings. I’m a cancer survivor and I need healthcare. I pay $400 a month for insurance, $975 for rent. I don’t know how long I can pay my bills on unemployment.”

Duane Thwaites: “Right now? A lot of uncertainty. During the offseason, I normally go to my 70-year-old mom’s house to take showers. Now I have to find another alternative to do that. I used to have an alternative where I had a gym membership and went to the gym to work out, but now all the gyms are closed, and so I’m caught in a really hard place for something as simple as taking a shower. Plus, the uncertainty really has me because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. There’s no money. AT&T still want their money for this phone, my car insurance still needs to be paid, and there’s no money coming in, there’s no work. Everything is still up in the air. People are saying we gonna get money, but nobody’s explaining how or when.”

Have you received help from teams or owners?

Mike Dougherty: “I have not received any word about the teams, employers, or athletes reaching out to help. I am kind of encouraged by words that some teams are stepping up, Mark Cuban [of the Dallas Mavericks] and Glen Taylor of the Minnesota Timberwolves are individual owners I have heard say they are going to do something. But as for the teams I work with, the Twins, the Wild, and the Vikings, I have not heard anything about offers of assistance.”

Randi Trent: “No. I was on the shuttle back to the employee parking lot when I heard the news from a coworker that the NBA suspended the season. The next day I learned that the Wells Fargo Center was closed until further notice. We’re waiting to hear what will happen next.”

Duane Thwaites: “We were informed via email. I believe it was last Thursday, saying it was official. We were actually in the process of training for the upcoming season. The [baseball] season was supposed to start on the 26th [of March] We just started basic training, alcohol, food, customer service training, and they only did two days, which was Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday got canceled and Thursday morning we got an email saying everything was canceled indefinitely. Nobody called or spoke to us directly.”

What other job prospects do you have?

Mike Dougherty: “As far as vending goes there are none. We can only wait until the crises ends. I do believe that when the games do start again, it will be a much-needed sign of a return to normalcy. Personally, I also am not sure if the agencies I work through for my day job will be manning any projects during this, and I don’t know if I will be able to find any ancillary legal work I do, such as writing wills and reviewing contracts at a time when people may have more on their minds. But as my wife is in an essential health job she will be working so I take some solace that we will make it through. My bigger concern is with my fellow vendors and stadium workers, many of whom are more dependent on this work than I am.”

Randi Trent: “Where am I going to get a job? I’ve been a server my whole career. No restaurants are open, let alone hiring anyone. I know that everyone is suffering right now and there’s nothing my employer can do about the pandemic. But it’s hard to be left in the lurch with no income. I know some teams have stepped up to the plate to pay their stadium workers and it would mean a lot to see that happen in Philadelphia.”

Duane Thwaites: “It’s the reality for many of us that work these types of jobs, especially with the kind of work I’m doing. I have background issues, it’s not easy for me to get a job, so I really don’t know what’s left for me. I know some of my coworkers are just hoping that other part-time jobs will call them back to work, but for me there isn’t too many at this moment.”

  • Editor’s note: since the subjects of this article were interviewed, it was announced that some, but not all, workers at the Wells Fargo Center will be paid for games postponed during March. Aramark, who employ Randi Trent, are not currently offering vending staff compensation during the shutdown.

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