On Friday, a group of workers at the Wells Fargo Center — where sporting events have been postponed until further notice due to the coronavirus — got some relief.
Comcast Spectacor, which runs the South Philly arena, will pay their employees, including ticket takers, cleaners, and security guards, for Philadelphia Flyers, 76ers, and Wings games that were postponed this month due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to an email sent to employees. The company pays about 1,000 workers a game.
But there’s another group of workers at the Wells Fargo Center who still aren’t sure how they’re going to make ends meet this month: the 800 food service workers employed by Aramark.
UNITE HERE, the union that represents the food service workers, has asked to negotiate with Aramark over the terms of work slowdown. The union, whose 4,000 members citywide have already been hard hit by the effects of the coronavirus, is asking that Aramark pay its workers for the lost hours and that the company continue to pay for workers’ health insurance, which is tied to the hours worked.
“We know the crisis is hitting Aramark and Comcast, but it’s hitting us harder,” said Samantha Spector, a server at the Wells Fargo Center. “We are the ones worrying about putting food on the table and paying our bills.”
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Non-tipped Aramark workers at Wells Fargo make between $13 and $20 an hour. They work between 20 and 40 hours each week, depending on how many events are scheduled. For many workers, the job is their primary form of income.
An Aramark spokesperson said the company is following the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with UNITE HERE.
“We recognize the hardship that this unprecedented situation is causing for everyone and are actively working with our clients, government agencies and within our own policies to offer additional support for our hourly team members who are directly impacted,” Aramark spokesperson Karen Cutler wrote in an email.
Earlier this week, Aramark’s chief executive John Zillmer told investors: “Our employees, if the operations are closed, typically are not paid."
By contrast, Comcast struck a different tone in an email to workers sent Friday.
“You are the team that makes our operation run seamlessly on a day-to-day basis, and we want to make sure you have a sense of financial security and value during these challenging times,” wrote Valerie Camillo, president of business operations for the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center.
Aramark’s share price has plummeted nearly 50 percent since January amid worries that large parts of the Philadelphia food-service giant’s $16 billion business would dry up as commerce gradually succumbs to the spread of the COVID-19 virus around the United States.
Like other hourly workers across the country living through the coronavirus pandemic, the Aramark employees are worried about losing their health insurance because of the loss of work.
John Miller, who has worked in the warehouse at the Wells Fargo Center for more than 30 years, deals with heart problems and vascular issues in his legs. He takes medication to keep the problems under control — medication that he wouldn’t be able to afford without his insurance.
“If I lose my medical, I wouldn’t even know what to do right now,” said Miller, 62, of South Philly.
There are 800 Aramark employees that work at Citizens Bank Park that also stand to be affected, UNITE HERE said, as the MLB has already postponed its opening day two weeks.
On Thursday, the Wells Fargo Center postponed all events at the arena that were scheduled through March 31. In addition, all Philadelphia Flyers, 76ers, and Wings games at the arena were postponed until further notice, as the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons.
Seven Sixers, five Flyers, and two Wings games were scheduled through March 31 and have been postponed.
Staff writer Harold Brubaker contributed to this report.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.