PNC Park game day employees love their jobs, even if those jobs don’t always love them back.
They are on their feet out in the elements for hours, ready to help fans on the cold rainy spring evenings and on the muggy summer days.
At the start of the next Pirates home stand, however, those workers may not be there as the members of the Pittsburgh Stadium Independent Employees Union — representing about 225 ticket takers, ticket sellers and ushers at PNC Park — are preparing to strike because they feel the team has taken advantage of the zeal they have for their jobs to keep wages low.
“[The team] comments occasionally, ‘There’s people here who would work for free,’” said Eric Dorman, PSIEU president. “That may be true that there are people in our union that just come there because they love being there, but you’ve got to compensate people. You’ve got to be fair about that, you’ve got to let them know you appreciate what they’re doing, and, unfortunately, the Pirates have never shown that appreciation.”
About 70% of union members voted to approve the strike, according to Dorman.
The PSIEU and the Pirates have been negotiating for months but remain apart on wages for ushers. The union and Pirates will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday in an attempt to avert a strike, which would start Thursday when the Pirates play their next home game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Brian Warecki, a Pirates spokesperson, said the team has offered “unprecedented wage increases” that would be retroactive to last season. Under the latest proposal, he said, ushers would make base pay of $12.40 per hour — up from $9.35 — and still would be allowed to collect tips.
Dorman called the offer “atrociously low” and said that the union has done research that shows ushers in other stadiums make an average of $1.40 more per hour.
“Come on, $15 an hour could be a minimum wage here by 2025, and our ushers could be making less than minimum wage,” Dorman said. “McDonald’s, GetGo, all these places are hiring at more money than they’re paying our ushers, and we’ve got people that are working here 30, 40 years.
“We’ve got a guy [who has worked here] for 75 years,” he continued. “This gentleman has worked 75 years as an usher, and they’re paying him $9.35 an hour. That’s an embarrassment, an absolute embarrassment.”
Another issue, Dorman said, was the Pirates’ insistence on the creation of a wage “pool,” in which new hires for all three positions represented by the union would make the same wage as ushers — the lowest paid employees among the three positions.
Under the Pirates proposal, the ticket sellers and ticket takers already employed by the team would be grandfathered into wages of $19 per hour and $18.65 per hour respectively in 2023. But new hires to those positions would make the same $12.40 as the ushers for jobs that do not receive tips and may offer fewer hours.
Dorman said that will make it harder for the team to fill job vacancies and create more turnover among newer employees.
“How is this competitive when you have [employees at] places like Wendy’s making $15 an hour?” Dorman said. “And if they want to get a younger population to work these kinds of jobs, you’ve got to turn money out. This ain’t 20 years ago, 30 years ago.”
Dorman said it is still possible that a strike could be averted, but the behavior of Pirates ownership throughout the negotiation process makes him skeptical.
He said the Pirates didn’t even give the workers a serious offer until they threatened to strike during the first game of the Pirates home series against the New York Yankees last season —one of the most heavily attended games in PNC Park history.
PSIEU members have been working under the terms of a 2021 agreement that was a one-year extension of the union’s last contract that expired in 2019. (Fans did not attend games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, so ticket takers, ticket sellers and ushers did not work.)
The union has told workers to prepare to form a picket line on Thursday outside of PNC Park and to bring signs with messages such as “We deserve 2023 wages, not 2006 wages” and “Pay Nutting Get Nutting” in reference to Pirates owner Bob Nutting.
The team was valued, according to Forbes in March, at $1.32 billion.
The Pirates, meanwhile, said they are still prepared to welcome fans even if a strike occurs.
“We remain hopeful that PSIEU membership will ratify an agreement soon,” Warecki said. “If, however, some members choose not to show up for work, we have contingency plans in place and will be well positioned to host our fans moving forward.”