San Diego concession workers wait for venues to reopen

Thousands unemployed while stadiums sit empty
Petco Park fire closes food court restaurant
Posted at 7:58 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 13:27:45-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Concession workers at San Diego's major sports and concert venues say they're waiting to go back to work, as sports leagues around the world make plans to restart their seasons amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We all want to return to our jobs. We love working there. It's a family at Petco Park," said Neil Lenzen, who most Padres fans know as "Neil the Beerman" from his job at Petco Park.

Like many of his colleagues, Neil is using unemployment benefits to make ends meet.

"It's a tough slog for them," said SEIU-USWW President David Huerta. The union represents about a third of the game-day workers at Petco Park.

"Right now, they have the security of the CARES Act," said Huerta. "But that's not going to last forever."

To help workers like Lenzen, the Padres pledged $1 million to an employee relief fund. According to the team, $800,000 of it has gone to Padres employees. The other $200,000 going to employees of Delaware North, Aramark, and Elite Security, the companies that contract with the team to provide concession workers, janitorial staff, and security during the games.

"We appreciate and value our game day employees and their excellent work throughout the course of the year," the team said in a statement to the media. "We hope that this fund can provide some relief during this difficult time. We will provide additional information to those affected employees as details of the fund are finalized in the coming days."

Huerta said the Padres have been one of the most generous teams in the league when it comes to helping all of their game-day workers.

But even when sports come back, there may not be jobs for workers like Lenzen.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he thinks sports could return by the end of June, but they'd have to be in empty stadiums. That worries Lenzen.

"We don't know what the future of our industry is as far as mass gatherings," he said. "We need people to sell hotdogs and beers and sodas to."

The problem extends beyond the Padres and Petco Park. Many concession workers create full-time jobs by working at several venues in the city, including SDCCU Stadium, Pechanga Arena, and other smaller concert venues.

Huerta said it's a statewide problem as the industry slowly reopens.

"If it were one stadium we were talking about here, we could figure it out," said Huerta. "But you're talking about thousands of venues throughout the state and thousands more throughout the country."

It's made Lenzen start to look at other options for employment.

"We can't sit around forever," said Lenzen. "I have kids to feed. Do I walk away from a career I've built to start something new, just to keep working? It's kind of a tough decision."